If you live in the U.S., you’ve no doubt heard that the state of Arizona recently issued one of its periodic warnings to the rest of the world not to drink its water — this time in the form of SB 1062, a bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gays for “religious” reasons. The measure was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, and it’s no big secret that she likely did so on the basis of economic rather than moral concerns. And as you might expect, fundamentalists now claim that her veto was a slap in the holier-than-thou face of “religious freedom”. Some even refer to the torpedoed bill as the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” — as if religious freedom needed to be “restored”. As always, the spin is that prohibiting discrimination against other people by religious fanatics constitutes “religious discrimination”.
“Religious freedom” is a very predictable defense that some people offer for bigoted behavior. It’s also a very bullshit defense, because it can be used, and has been used, to mask just about anything and everything — from slavery and racism to child marriage to capital punishment to genocide to beating the crap out of little kids. But while true religious freedom means that you have the right to belong to whatever religion you choose (or, we hastily and emphatically add, to no religion at all), it doesn’t automatically mean that you have the right to practice whatever any religion preaches; it’s a case-by-case consideration that always must balance the freedom to indulge in a behavior with its impact on other people. Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. You’re perfectly free to adhere to a faith that maintains some sectors of the population are second-class citizens (or “sinners” in fundie lingo) but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to actually treat some people as second-class citizens.
Contrary to what the “religious freedom” crowd might have you believe, the United States government has always provided special dispensation to persons with strong religious convictions. Among other things, this has appeared in the form of exemption from military service, from property taxes, and now from certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Since such programs require mass participation to be effective, allowing some individuals to opt out places an undue burden on those who do participate; yet this has been deemed perfectly legal and constitutionally defensible from day one. Far from being the victims of discrimination and persecution, as they so often proclaim, Christians have been and still are the beneficiaries of reverse discrimination and even extraordinary privilege.
Likewise, the government has been, if not supportive, at least indifferent to, misguided and misinformed efforts by pharmacists to deny women access to medication on “moral” grounds. Many states have even passed legislation specifically authorizing such campaigns. And as despicable as it may be to contribute to the inconvenience, distress and even suffering of individuals in need of medical services in order to bolster one’s sense of moral superiority, it appears that such a position does not clash with constitutional ideals. Why? Because the “moralists” generally are tendering smug condemnation of individuals for their actions rather than smug condemnation for their demographic groups. (We say “generally” because in some cases women are prescribed birth control for medical conditions rather than for contraception. And we can’t help noting that sometimes, as in the case of Hobby Lobby, the “morality” dictated by Christian arrogance takes a backseat to Mammon.)
Homosexuality is another matter altogether. While the anti-gay factions try to portray homosexuality as something one does rather than something one is — to depict being gay as a “lifestyle” that one chooses — the fact is that one has no more control over one’s sexuality than one does over race, gender or age. That makes discrimination against gays as much prohibited by law as discrimination against Asians or women. Interestingly — and ironically — there has always been a virulent, overreaching protection against religious discrimination — even though religion, unlike age, race, nationality or sexual orientation, is entirely voluntary.
If someone operated a business that did not allow Christians on the premises, that would be religious discrimination. But it’s perfectly fine to prohibit religious activities — e.g., baptism, foot washing, pot smoking, circumcision, or snake handling. Similarly, a restaurant certainly could forbid patrons from engaging in overt displays of amorousness, whether gay or straight. But just because you can prevent customers from brushing their hair or applying makeup or wearing bikinis at the table doesn’t necessarily mean that you can bar women from entering.
Why should the government get involved at all? Why can’t we just adopt a Libertarianoid invisible hand policy and let those customers whose business isn’t wanted in one place just take their trade elsewhere (which they probably will anyway)? Get the government off our backs and let the markets decide. Live and let live. Cool and groovy, baby.
Ah, if only things really could work that way. But alas, ideological solutions work perfectly only in a perfect world. And in this particular world, people will not conduct themselves consistently in a civil manner if left to their own devices. Of course, it would be equally fallacious to suppose that government intervention is always the best answer. But it is, all too often, the only answer — it is frequently the only available mechanism by which the best of humanity can pull everyone else up, or at least prevent the worst from dragging everyone else down. Without it, we risk sliding into what “moralists” like to call (at least when condemning the actions of other people) a “slippery slope”.
By allowing some businesses to discriminate against a demographic sector, we invite an avalanche of such exclusions, which very well could result in a situation such that this group and others would find it difficult if not impossible to obtain certain services at all — at least in the “red” states. This is discrimination, oppression and persecution, no matter how many Bible verses you quote while doing it. And there is the very real risk that such exclusionary discrimination will escalate into persecutional discrimination and even violence. This isn’t just idle speculation; it’s gleaning from the shameful pages of history.
Many people are alive today who can remember when African-Americans were not allowed to attend the same schools, eat in the same restaurants, sit on the same park benches, or drink from the same water fountains as Caucasians. It was bad enough that black baseball players were confined to “Negro leagues” instead of major leagues; what made it even more undignified is that after playing their hearts out in a game and traveling by bus to their next destination, they often were denied lodging at hotels, and even the use of restroom facilities en route. And even worse still, they were subjected to endless harassment, threats and physical attacks.
And guess what? “Religious freedom” was the rallying cry of many who indulged in these evils. Going back even farther, slave owners used select biblical passages to justify the ownership, oppression and brutalization of fellow human beings of a different complexion. (And I won’t go into detail lest I be accused — quite inaccurately — of running into Godwin’s Law, but there was also a Christian ethnocentric dogma underlying Nazism.)
But things are very different now, you say? You bet. And if you believe that the changes just “happened”, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. Social evolution is generally much too gradual to effect such a drastic difference in such a relatively short time. For kids growing up today, it may be hard to imagine there was ever a time when racism was so prevalent, so officially sanctioned. That’s because we’ve had a couple of generations for equality (relative if not total) to become the norm. But before that, there were many, many generations in which blatant, extreme racism was the norm. And overturning that norm required legislative, judicial and executive intercession — goaded, to be sure, by persistent and courageous activism.
Today, “faggot” is the new “nigger”; gays are the target of choice for Good Christians (and others) who feel that they absolutely must target someone, and no longer can get away with overt racism. In the past few years, American civilization (or what passes for it) has made tremendous strides toward respect and equality for gays. Now, the legislators of Arizona, among others, are trying to turn back the calendar. If they succeed, there almost certainly will be more Matthew Sheperds. And more Fred Phelpses saying they got what they deserved.
If even one person criticizes the religious right for its bigotry — or makes a vitriolic comment about them even in tasteless jest — then that individual will become an icon of “religious persecution” . And, of course, “proof” that “liberals” are intolerant and hateful. Meanwhile, when World Vision (which, lest we forget, is itself a Christian organization) announced that it would begin, in one measure at least, treating gays like human beings, it was bullied into reversing that decision by the reactions of hundreds of thousands of Good Christians outraged by its support for “immorality”. This even entailed cutting off financial support for World Vision’s programs that fight global poverty and greatly benefit children.
And what do we call this kind of reaction? Christian Love, of course. With a heavy dose of “religious freedom”
They’re mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. Yes, the Obama Haters Inc. have made it clear that they won’t stand for the president’s audacity in getting himself elected (twice, no less), and they’re gonna do whatever it takes to put him in his place. Sooner or later, they’re going to reach the holy grail of impeachment, even if it takes 20 years. And they’re not the least bit deterred by having no actual grounds for impeachment; they’ve been known to suggest that they can impeach now, and come up with a reason later, and they know how to generate “scandals” until the cows come home. Surely one of them will eventually stick.
They’ve previously brought you the NSA “scandal” and the IRS “scandal”, among many many others. (For the record, the NSA has indeed indulged in behavior that might be considered scandalous, but it was going on long before Obama came along; and it’s not a matter of the agency “spying” on the American public, though it’s almost always spun that way. And the real scandal with the IRS is not that it has targeted “conservative” groups, but quite the reverse; it has allowed them excessive leeway to flout rules and guidelines — and in the process viciously malign their Public Enemy Number One, The President of the United States.) Both of these “scandals” failed to topple the guy who has “stolen” THEIR country; so now they’re really pinning their hopes on Benghazi. STILL.
It doesn’t matter how many times their myths are debunked, how many documents are declassified to show that the “scandal” is bogus; every new scrap of information is twisted and spun as “proof” that Obama lied, covered up and/or collaborated with terrorists.
The myths they love to perpetuate about the Benghazi attack include these:
1. That the Obama administration ignored terrorist threats.
(Nope. Perhaps they’re confusing him with George W. Bush. But intelligence found no evidence of any imminent threat in Benghazi.)
2. That the Obama administration issued a “stand down” order to forces in Libya.
(Nope. There’s no evidence such a thing ever happened, and nobody actually involved has ever made such a claim.)
3. That the Obama administration abandoned personnel to die.
(Nope. The president ordered all available assets dispatched to the scene post haste.)
An especially silly (and therefore especially popular) tack is the obsession over when exactly the president called the assault terrorism. You’d think that after Mitt Romney so thoroughly humiliated himself on this point in a presidential debate, having to be schooled by moderator Candy Crowley, that they’d give up this narrative. But they seem absolutely impervious to self-embarrassment, so they keep hammering away at it, even though it’s a matter of public record that the president used the T-word within 24 hours.
Romney also had made a fool of himself on the day of the attack by echoing another popular right-wing talking point, saying:
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Contrary to what the Haters frequently assert, the president has never “sympathized” with nor “apologized” to or for terrorists. Moreover, the statement Mr. Romney chose to label “sympathizing” was actually issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. And it was issued before the attack. Other than that, I suppose Mr. Romney was fairly accurate. While he was willing to take great liberties with the facts himself, he indulged in the pettiest of semantic hair-splitting with regard to the timing of the president’s denouncement of terrorism.
When confronted with the evidence, however, the critics insist that Obama wasn’t explicit enough that he was specifically referring to Benghazi (even though his first use of the word was in a Rose Garden speech especially presented to address that attack), or that he used the words “act(s) of terror” instead of “act(s) of terrorism”. They also spin and twist subsequent remarks by Crowley into some kind of admission that she’d been wrong at the debate. For example Breitbart,com (the man is gone, but his brilliant legacy lives on) ran a blog post with the title “CNN’s Crowley Admits Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi A Terror Attack”, but the ensuing text delivers no such blockbuster; it merely mentions that someone else at CNN asserted she was wrong. Even the Washington Post Fact Checker jumped on the bandwagon, awarding the president FOUR Pinocchios — a rating normally reserved for the most blatantly bald-faced falsehoods — for insisting that he used the T-word immediately.
Doubling down on the asininity, the Haters have really gotten their thong in a bunch over the administration’s suggestion that a video may have played a role in motivating the attack. What they’re systematically ignoring (or, to put it in their terms, lying about, downplaying or covering up) is that it appears the video indeed did play a role. Eyewitness accounts to that effect were reported in numerous media sources immediately. And not just the fabled librulmedia, either. Even Rev. Moon’s beloved Washington Times, a revered Beacon Of Truth for faithful “conservatives” from Ronald Reagan to Glenn Beck, got it right:
But in telephone interviews with The Washington Times, several residents in Benghazi said there had been two distinctly different groups involved in the assault on the U.S. diplomatic post.
The residents described a scene that began as a relatively peaceful demonstration against a film produced in the United States that had been deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
The situation did not turn violent until a group of heavily armed militants showed up and “hijacked” the protest, the residents said. The original group of protesters was joined by a separate group of men armed with rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. (Emphasis added, rather emphatically.)
But wait. Can it be… is The Times possibly suggesting that an incident like this could have more than one cause? While such an idea has been known to make small brains explode, it appears that yes, that could indeed have been the case. But the Obama Haters are ignoring/ lying about/ covering up such a possibility. They’re also ignoring/ lying about/ covering up the obvious fact that in the first days after the violent outbreak, things were rather confusing, and what few facts were available might have seemed contradictory. You hardly can blame the president and his administration for being cautious about drawing conclusions before all the pieces were assembled.
If it had turned out that the assault had not involved terrorism, I unconditionally guarantee that the Haters would have insisted that he had unequivocally declared it had. And they would have raked him over the coals for that just as they have been doing for supposedly trying to avoid saying it. The moral of the story is that there is absolutely nothing this president can possibly say that these people will consider the right thing to say.
Wherefores and Whys
Chances are that if anyone else were president, nobody would give a big rat’s ass about his timing of the T-word. But the Obama Factor makes it somehow a matter of cosmic importance. And the official spin, you see, is that he had a good reason for trying to downplay/ lie about/ cover up the terrorist element: he was afraid it would impact his chances in the upcoming election. Which is patently absurd for at least three reasons.
First, the election was still a couple of months away; and the voting public, as it has demonstrated repeatedly, has the memory span of a gnat. Second, even the Haters acknowledge that the president ultimately did use the T-word — the standard spin is that it took him at least 2 weeks to do so. And according to the calendar I use — the same calendar commonly in use throughout North America — 2 weeks is even closer to the election date. Third, if Obama’s predecessor is any indication, a terrorist attack would not have damaged his electoral fortunes at all; on the contrary, it would have enhanced them greatly.
On the watch of George W. Bush — who, if anyone cares, seized The White House without being elected — there were 13 attacks on U.S. consulates and embassies, killing at least 98 people and injuring dozens; two of these sites were attacked TWICE during this time. But far from clamoring for investigation and impeachment, the punditocracy rhapsodized endlessly about the commander-in-chief’s “leadership”, “courage” and “resolve”.
And then there was that attack on American soil in September of 2001 — the exact date eludes me — in which a mere 3000 or so Americans were murdered. And unlike the victims in Benghazi, who accepted a certain amount of risk as part of their government jobs, the victims in the U.S. were mostly civilians going about their daily business. At the time terrorists struck, Bush was attending at photo-op at a school in Florida. Keeping his priorities straight, he appears to have continued attending the photo-op for at least half an hour after getting the news (not merely 7 minutes, as Michael Moore suggested), and didn’t lift a finger while hundreds of Americans were roasting alive in Manhattan. (There is evidence that he even knew about the attack before he went into that classroom.)
His eventual “response” was to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attack, and that was ruled over by one of Osama bin Laden’s enemies. This little undertaking has cost thousands of additional American lives (the vast majority of them during the Bush years) as well as the lives of probably hundreds of thousands (nobody’s really keeping count) of Iraqi men, women and children. The end result was that, according to terrorism experts, the U.S. was left even more susceptible to terrorism.
Bush and members of his administration fabricated evidence to support their scheme and persecuted those who dared try to expose the fraud. They lied about the siege of Iraq dozens (if not hundreds)of times, and repeatedly changed their story about the reason for initiating it. The company that was awarded a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq just happened to have a cozy relationship with Dick Cheney. And George W. Bush continued to maintain cozy relations with Saudi Arabia — one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships — which supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers.
And how did all of this impact Junior’s standing with the public? Well, for starters, it scored him (heavily aided by media manipulation) the highest presidential approval rating in polling history. Nice. So obviously, President Obama should embrace the T-word lustfully, eh?
But wait. How silly of me. We’re talking apples and oranges here. George W. was a whitebread Republican from the beefsteak-red Republic Of Texas (actually lilac-blue Maine but shhh! don’t tell his supporters) while Obama is an ethnically challenged Democrat from surf-blue Hawaii (which the Haters keep mistaking for Kenya). And those differences totally turn the world on its ear.
Just look at what happened when the Obama administration brought down Osama bin Laden — who, lest we forget, was the suspected mastermind of the terrorist strike that gave Bush his biggest PR godsend. The punditocracy went absolutely bonkers (well, even more bonkers than usual) trying to discredit the president. They claimed he waited too long to kill bin Laden, they claimed he tried to claim he’d killed bin Laden singlehandedly, they claimed he didn’t kill bin Laden mercifully enough, they claimed bin Laden wasn’t really dead. But at the same time, they must have considered bin Laden’s killing a great accomplishment, because they did their best to credit it to George W. Bush — who had been out of office for more than two years, and had long ago said he was not concerned about bin Laden.
If Islamic radicals attack Americans when a Republican is in The White House, then Muslims — all Muslims — become The Enemy. If it happens when a Democrat is in The White House, then the president and his fellow Democrats become The Enemy. This “scandal” is not about Benghazi. It’s not about terrorism. It’s about Barack Obama. Or more accurately, it’s about Obama Derangement Syndrome.
It has become very popular among climate science deniers to say that “the science is unsettled”, as if such a statement settles anything. It doesn’t. Of course the science is unsettled. Science is almost always unsettled. That’s why they call it science instead of religion. But just because scientists don’t know everything doesn’t mean they don’t know anything. There’s still much they don’t know about global warming, just as there’s much they don’t know about cancer and Pluto. That does not mean they’re uncertain that any of them exists.
“Settled science” is a straw man suggesting that scientists claim to have all the answers. How could they when they usually don’t have their own radio talk shows? And I’ve never heard a one of them claim to know everything. What you might hear them claim, however, is that they know more about the field they work in every day than does someone who’s never worked in it at all. Fancy that.
Charles Krauthammer (pictured) recently paid tribute to the “settled science” decoy with an article in the Washington Post titled The Myth Of Settled Science. He prefaces his remarks with the insistence that “I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier.” But he certainly uses the tactics of a denier, including cherry picking, misinformation and distortion. And he follows the Golden Rule of today’s rabid ideologues: When All Else Fails, Attack President Obama.
He quotes a statement by the president that “the debate is settled … climate change is a fact” , for which he believes the president deserves the appellation of “propagandist in chief” — an irony too thick to cut with a chainsaw– and pontificates that
“There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.”
Scientists, of course, subscribe to no such credo, nor does Obama. He didn’t say that the science is settled, but that the debate is settled — i.e., the debate over whether global warming is a fact. And on this point he was all too accurate. The debate indeed has been long settled among competent and disinterested scientists. Plenty of people still contest that conclusion, of course, just as plenty of people contest that a landing on the moon really occurred. But neither is really a debate in any meaningful sense.
Such individuals often cloak themselves in the mantle of “skepticism”, as if a skeptic would be more likely to doubt scientists than crackpots and ideological fanatics with little or no scientific background. You can also doubt gravity if like, and test out your conviction with as many leaps from tall buildings as will support your thesis. In the words of physicist and advocate for scientific literacy Neil deGrasse Tyson, “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” One might argue that the leapers from buildings hurt nobody except themselves; but sometimes before they leap they get themselves into positions of power and influence. And they have a habit of vilifying and ridiculing people who do support science. (See Gore, Al.)
Are scientists sometimes wrong? You bet. But that doesn’t mean science itself is wrong. And you need a lot more to establish that scientists are wrong than ideological fervor and cherry-picked details.
Krauthammer likens global warming to mammograms, which have been used for many years to prevent breast cancer but which, according to one study, are more or less worthless. It’s a weak analogy because mammography research is experimental and remedial, whereas climate research is purely observational. A more appropriate analogy would be: “The certainty that global warming exists is like the certainty that breast cancer and x-rays exist.” Or, if Krauthammer’s assessment is correct: “The idea that mammograms prevent breast cancer is akin to the idea that global warming can be dispelled by flapping your bedsheets at the moon.”
Krauthammer can speak with some authority about mammograms, having been trained as a physician. But to the best of my knowledge, he has little to no expertise in climatology. Which doesn’t seem to make any difference to the cult of denial.
It’s interesting to note that Krauthammer is generally considered a “conservative” — which may not be entirely fair, since he holds certain positions (i.e., pro-choice) that are antithetical to contemporary boilerplate “conservatism”. But he is a regular contributor to Fox “News” and The Weekly Standard. And he certainly follows the winger playbook on this one.
“Conservatives” — whether they’re genuine conservatives or modern neocons fraudulently wearing the badge of conservatism — have a long, long history of being on the wrong side of science. You’d think that just once in the long, long history of the human race, they could get it right. But they seem very, very determined not to.
Just when you thought Obama Derangement Syndrome couldn’t possibly get any more deranged. The competition was stiff, but the photo above is surely the silliest to come out of the shutdown of the federal government. This blatantly (and comically) Photoshopped image purports to depict how the evil Fuhrer in the White House was being “spiteful” by closing up national parks like Mount Rushmore. What it really exhibits is the extreme extremes to which ODS victims are willing to go in order to embarrass and humiliate themselves.
There are at least a couple of different versions of this image in circulation, accompanying various and sundry blog posts devoted to the furtherance of Obama Derangement Syndrome. At least one of them ran a disclaimer to the effect that “the photo is fake, but the story is real”.
Despite the disclaimers, it’s certain that many ODS sufferers will interpret the photo literally, and figure that black copters from DC did indeed drape those enormous stone heads on the mountain. But that’s a relatively minor point. The important thing is that the story itself is only marginally less phony than the photo. The essential claims are that (a) President Obama (or “Hussein”, as such ODS blogs tend to call him) blocked all public views of the famed monument; (b) that he did so out of “spite” — or, for some reason or other, to “punish” the American people for something or other; and (c) that he defied requests from the state to remove some of the cones blocking the roads.
But the National Park Service (not the president) closed the access roads for reasons of safety rather than “spite”. It also isn’t true that the NPS thumbed its nose at the state’s request to remove some of the cones; in fact, the NPS complied with this request. Moreover, the federal government even made an arrangement with states to reopen this and two other national parks during the shutdown. Oh yeah, and the closures did not totally block the view of the monument. Other than that, I suppose the story is somewhat in the neighborhood of accurate.
I wish I could say that rumors like these are rare occurrences. But with the ODS invasion of our planet in full swing, no rumor is too bizarre to be cranked out; and no rumor that is cranked out is too bizarre for the masses to believe. And the government shutdown was yet another golden opportunity for such rumors to erupt. (Of course, a butterfly sneeze would be construed as a golden opportunity to tack some sinister plot on The White House.) The era of the Obama presidency will be remembered as the age when lunacy became not only acceptable but chic. And the media will have played a huge role in making it happen.
It has become standard procedure for the media to invoke the “both sides do it” refrain every time Republicans or “conservatives” exhibit childish, hateful or arrogant behavior — while in contrast, whenever a Democrat or “liberal” does something wrong, it tends to be characterized as exclusively Democratic or “liberal”. Right-wingers say the president is a communist socialist Nazi Muslim atheist dictator who tramples on the Constitution and operates behind a veil of secrecy. The president says we need to overcome our differences and work together. The media report that both sides have indulged in partisan bickering.
The shutdown is no different. The mainstream media consistently referred to it as “an impasse”, ” a stalemate”, lack of “compromise”, “a game of chicken”, etc., etc., etc. Which is to say, both sides were doing in it. Well, to be fair, not all media outlets said this. Some of them just cut to the chase and ascribed the whole debacle to the president’s supposed refusal to “negotiate”.
In fact, the president bent over backward and tied himself into knots to compromise and negotiate (to an absolutely alarming degree for many of his supporters) in getting the Affordable Care Act (almost universally ridiculed as “Obamacare”) passed into law. But passed into law it was. It was signed by the president. And its constitutionality, which allegedly was in question. was upheld by a stridently “conservative” and shamelessly activist Supreme Court. Of course, if you point out to ODS victims that the ACA is law, they have a very ODS response handy: slavery was once the law of the land too, and helping people to live and stay healthy is comparable to keeping them in chains, torturing them, and forcing them to do hard labor — in fact, it’s the same thing. No, really.
The time for negotiation and compromise has come and gone. Now it’s a matter of following the law or doing everything in your power to thwart it out of a political an/or personal vendetta. The GOP chose the latter. Not only did Republicans engineer the shutdown, they plotted and threatened to do so for months, and even changed the rules to make such a shutdown inevitable. They were quite willing not only to hold the American public hostage, but even to hold Congress itself hostage. And despite their avowed concern for fiscal responsibility, they have voted to repeal the ACA at least 42 times, though they knew perfectly well they had no chance of succeeding, at a cost of at least 55 million. And they show no signs of ever stopping the stupidity. They also knew damn well that this attempt at extortion via shutdown would not derail “Obamacare”, but they were quite willing to subject countless Americans to the pain and inconvenience anyway in order to express their all-important, lemming-brained contempt for the guy in the Oval Office — as if people weren’t already well aware of it.
But couldn’t Obama and the Democrats also have done something to prevent the shutdown? Well, sure. They could have caved in 100 percent instead of only 80 or 90, but that would have set a very dangerous precedent that likely would have had greater long-term consequences than the shutdown itself.
Even some hard-right Obama haters admit that the GOP masterminded the shutdown — before resuming their regularly scheduled hard-wired programming of just laying all the blame at the feet of Obama and the Democrats. Jonah Goldberg of the ever-entertaining National Review, while conceding that the GOP started it, still insists that nonetheless, “President Obama and Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for not only prolonging it but also making it as painful as possible”, whatever that means; and that the president’s putative refusal to “negotiate” is due to a “vindictive streak” that causes him to “punish his enemies.” How many head scratches can we work in there, Jonah?
Or some of them tried to tango around the blame game by arguing that even if the Republicans are to blame, they had some kind of Constitutional authority for their actions, so they’re really not to blame. Cute. Maybe we should point the finger at Thomas Jefferson instead.
Many of them, however, just skip the preliminaries and get right to the Obama blame impulse. When in doubt, blame Obama. The symptoms of Obama Derangement Syndrome, after all are: (a) a passionate conviction that absolutely anything the president says or does stems from sinister motives, and (b) the passionate conviction that anything that goes wrong in the U.S., if not the entire world, is directly traceable to the 44th chief executive.
Lest we forget, Barack Obama was democratically elected president of The United States. Twice. Indeed, he is the only president since FDR to be elected twice with a majority of the popular vote. And one thing he was elected to do was reform the healthcare system. But to the ODS crowd, he is a tyrannical dictator who somehow has unlawfully seized control of “their” country, and is now working his evil plan to control the universe — by, among other things, helping to ensure affordable healthcare. When there is, for example, a turnover of military brass in his administration as in any administration, it must be a “Stalinist purge” to install commanders “willing to kill Americans.” In other versions of the tale, he’s specifically purging Christians from the miltary. Or his critics. Or Romney supporters. Or all of the above.
And once the shutdown had ended, the president urged that saner heads prevail:
And now that the government is reopened, and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do.
What? Focus on facts more than propaganda? What a radical suggestion. And to the ODS brigade, it was more than just a recommendation. It was an imperious “demand” that you “ignore” anyone who “disagrees” him.
Okay, ODS sufferers, listen up: I’m really tired of having to defend President Obama, or any other politician, from wacky rumors and accusations. I really and truly am — there are other, far more important things I’d rather be discussing here. Can we just agree that you’ve made fools of yourselves enough for the time being and give it a little rest? Mind you, I’m not asking you to abandon hatred and delirium permanently; I realize they’re what gets you out of bed in the morning. But can you just allow a little time for both yourselves and me to catch our breath a little? Pretty please?
1984 Will Not Arrive.
That was the title of a talk I once attended by legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who laid out a solid case that the government will never be able to, nor even attempt to, keep tabs on its entire citizenry in an Orwellian fashion. Selected individuals, sure — some individuals present good cause to be monitored — but not the populace as a whole. No matter how sophisticated the technology, he observed, and no matter how much data is collected, sifting through the data in a meaningful manner requires human effort; and monitoring an entire population would be so time-consuming, so labor-intensive, and so expensive as to be profoundly prohibitive.
That fact, however, seems to be lost on most of the American public, as well as the media, particularly in light of recent revelations about the National Security Agency. All because of one man, quasi-professional geek turned folk hero Edward Snowden, who just 4 short years ago declared that leakers like him “should be shot in the balls”. But that was then, and this is now.
And now the media have erupted in a Libertarian orgy of paranoid paroxysms and dystopian delusions about how Big Brother has arrived in grand fashion. Here’s your impossible challenge for today, boys and girls: find a media story about this “scandal” that doesn’t call it a “scandal”, and/or doesn’t use the word “spying”. Reports that the NSA has sometimes inadvertently gathered superfluous information or otherwise erred are routinely packaged under the headline NSA Broke the Law Thousands of Times; and there seems to be scarcely a journalist anywhere who is capable of distinguishing between spying and data collection, or between a scandal and a fucking mess. The big bad guvmint, the official spin goes, has been listening to and taking notes on our phone conversations; and about two-thirds of Americans buy into this crock. But the odds against such a thing are astronomical.
Let’s do some simple and rough, but significant math, shall we? No no, don’t worry — it won’t hurt, I promise. Okay, then. There are an estimated 2.4 billion phone calls made in the U.S. every day. Let’s conservatively suppose that each one lasts only one minute. (The latest estimates I’ve seen are closer to two minutes.) About 200,000 people work for the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Only a relatively small number of them are actively engaged in intelligence gathering, but let’s pretend they all are. That means that if the government-haters are correct, each of these employees must listen to, at the very least, 200 hours of chatter every day. This is in addition to their other duties — poking through your emails, posts, and page views online, for instance. It’s always amusing to see how allegations that the government performs such superhuman feats are made by the same individuals who habitually denounce the government as being hopelessly incompetent.
What’s that you say? Police are sometimes guilty of snooping as well? Well okay. So let’s suppose that’s all that any of them ever do, and that they join forces with the feds in doing so. That would mean that each agent of evil must only listen to as few as 40 hours of talk every day. Maybe you’d better start worrying after all.
With such a staggering (not to mention time-warping) workload, intelligence bodies are necessarily going to be highly selective in whom they target. In other words, they’re not going to bother spying on anyone unless they have (at least what they consider) a good reason. But this kind of basic numeracy has been distorted, spun and distilled into the simplistic bromide “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” — which the spinmeisters then ridicule because there’s always a chance you might have something to fear. There’s also a chance that you might be struck by lightning.
The mindset that “they’re watching me” is usually paranoia, but it’s also quite often egotism, founded on the conviction that “I’m so damn important the government must be monitoring me, because how dare they not.” Granted, abuses do occur, but they’re far from routine. This is not to say that you should play ostrich; but Chicken Little is an equally absurd bird. Vigilance is fine, but you don’t have to sacrifice sanity for it.
Apparently, actual spying on citizens occurs rarely , despite frequent rumors and accusations to the contrary. And many people are taking the bait. Suddenly, people are shocked, shocked, that the government has been collecting metadata (rather like a copy of the phone bill) of citizens’ phone calls. Gosh, Americans really hate to have their privacy compromised, don’t they?
Well actually, no. Phone companies have been selling the private dope on their customers for some time, with no uproar. Furthermore, the amount of personal data the public willingly and eagerly divulges on a daily basis (think Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, etc. etc. etc.) dwarfs the amount of private information the government collects on the vast majority of them. People eagerly reveal to the whole world juicy tidbits about whom they’re sleeping with, what movies they watch, where they go and when, whom they vote for, where they work, what their children’s names are, how much they love Jesus and what they had for breakfast; but they’re outraged over Uncle Sam collecting a database of the phone numbers they’ve called.
Ah, but it’s one thing for consumers to willingly divulge intimate facts to commercial organizations, their friends and relatives, and perfect strangers in Bahrain; but it’s quite another for Washington to compile data on us without our consent. So that must explain all the ruckus, eh?
Well, now that you mention it, no. It doesn’t. Because don’t look now, but the U.S. government has always “spied” on its citizens — and in some instances actually spied without quotation marks. The FBI relentlessly bugged, shadowed and harassed Martin Luther King, Jr. for instance. In fact, on J. Edgar Hoover’s watch, that agency was more frighteningly abusive than anything the NSA appears even to have dreamed about thus far.
Speaking of which, NSA “spying”, if you insist on calling it that (and in some cases that word indeed would be justified) has been happening for years. And it hasn’t been a big secret, either; it’s been reported in the mainstream media many times, including several stories in The New York Times. Why hasn’t there been a massive outcry before Edward Snowden presumably delivered a lead slug to his own scrotum? Hmmm… could it be that it makes a difference when the president is behind it all? Yes, surely that must explain it.
Well, no, it doesn’t at all, for two reasons. First, the president isn’t really “behind it all”. Certainly, his is the desk at which the buck stops. But the NSA has been doing its business all along with the knowledge and approval of Congress and the courts. So it’s hardly been occurring in a vacuum or a deep dark dungeon. Or the Oval Office.
Second, Obama hasn’t exactly been the first chief executive to preside during such a massive data harvest. It was under his predecessor that the Patriot Act was passed, authorizing this kind of “spying” on the citizenry. Yet If you mention the Bush connection to your right-wing friends, you’re almost certain to receive a response like this: “There you go again, trying to defend Obama by saying Bush did the same thing. That doesn’t make it right for Obama to do it.” Which of course misses the point by a country mile.
Gaming the Blame Game
The point isn’t that “Bush did it too”, but that Bush did this. It isn’t about “defending Obama” (I’m not convinced there’s anything substantial to defend him from). It’s about trying to lend some perspective to the public’s reaction (and reactionism) and to highlight the glaring double standard of the media and the hypocrisy of the wingers. That’s certainly not an insignificant line of inquiry, especially since many of the wingers are denouncing Obama’s presumed hypocrisy and/ or flip-flopping since his expressed stance on the matter as a senator and a presidential candidate. (While his position has evolved since his days in the Senate, his actions as president are entirely consistent with his position on the campaign trail.)
By no means is everyone who defends the NSA also defending Obama. Take Dick Cheney. Please. He called Snowden a “traitor” and possibly a Chinese spy (which indeed would do a great deal to account for Snowden’s behavior) and also commented that:
“I think it’s one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States.”
If you think Mr. Cheney ever, in a billion years, even under the threat of Gitmo, would do anything that in any way whatsoever might be conceived as defending Obama, you really don’t know Dick. Practically since the day he left office, he’s been engaged in an unheard-of campaign to smear the new administration. Even while defending the NSA, he’s been very careful to make a point of proclaiming that the president has “no credibility”. (Yes, really — this is the same Dick Cheney who said that Iraq was amassing WMDs and that “we will be greeted as liberators” and “we are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency” and that the occupation of Iraq would last “weeks rather than months”. Among many many other things. And now he has the gall to pose as an authority on credibility. One thing you have to admire about the guy is his extraordinary capacity to keep a straight face.) And just for good measure, he chimed in with the cuckoo chorus proclaiming that Obama is involved in a “cover-up” of Benghazi. Yet for all his distancing of himself from the current administration, he is a proud backer of whatever the NSA is up to.
Ditto for many of his dittohead compatriots in Washington. They’ve been foaming at the mouth for at least 5 years in quest of some titanic regime-toppling “scandal”. They failed to find it in Fast and Furious. They failed to find it in Solyndra. They failed to find it in the IRS non-scandal. They failed to find it in Benghazi. They failed to find it in the deranged ranting about a forged birth certificate, despite some very creative attempts. So many of them were hoping that the NSA “spying” “scandal” would be, at long last his downfall. But like the other “scandals”, this one starts dissolving when you shine more light on it.
And the truth is, it’s a delicate tap-dancing act for Washington wingers to call for the president’s head on a platter over this, when so many of them… um, …support the NSA surveillance. In fact, many Republicans who have denounced the president as a totalitarian gun-grabber are all for NSA “spying”. Yep, they consider firearm registration to be a dangerous, unconstitutional intrusion on civil liberties. But collection of citizens’ metadata? Not so much.
One of the most fascinating things about this whole NSA flap is how it has united people across ideological boundaries, resulting in some very peculiar bedmates indeed. Michael Moore joins forces with the Ron and Rand Revue in denouncing the “spying” as an outrage and an assault on the Constitution and civil liberties; while very “liberal” Sen. Al Franken and very “conservative” Speaker of the House John Boehner join forces to maintain that the activities do not constitute spying, but an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.
One faction that has been pretty much unanimous in its stance is members of the right-wing punditocracy. These commentators basically fall into three categories: (1) those who ignore, deny or gloss over the fact that it was Bush (or some responsible adult in that administration) who got the ball rolling, and just blame Obama (e.g., Rush Limbaugh); (2) those who praised NSA intelligence under Bush but brand it as evil under Obama (e.g., Sean Hannity); (3) those who acknowledge that Bush started it, and that it was not a good thing but, what the heck, blame Obama anyway (e.g., George Will). What it all comes down to is that they subscribe to the maxim “Blame Obama First, Foremost and Forever”, no matter what. And their hatred of the president is being spread by millions of citizens who are convinced that because they hate Obama’s guts so much, then by god he must be doing something really bad. It sounds like a sort of reverse New Age weltanschauung: hate someone long enough and intensely enough, and they’ll eventually deserve it.
The Prime Factor
Which brings us to the real explanation for all the hyperventilation over the NSA “spying”. It isn’t a love of privacy. It isn’t a general hatred of the government. It isn’t even a concern about overreaching by a president in general. It’s the Obama Factor, which dictates that anything — absolutely anything and everything — the current president does is ten times as bad as anything anyone else would do.
You’ve seen the Obama Factor at work many, many times already, in a number of mega-silly narratives generated by the Obama Haters. Such as the president’s use of a teleprompter like any other speaker on television or in at public events. Or his attempts to reduce gun violence. Or, heaven forbid, his taking vacations – a manufactured outrage so contrived that sustaining it requires labeling even official trips as “vacations”. The extremist vendetta against this president has reached such Swiftian proportions that it has even the former chair of the RNC shaking his head in disbelief.
I’m not here to defend President Obama. Nor am I here either to condemn or condone anything the NSA or any other government agency does — so you can spare me the lectures about how “you can let the government have your phone records if you want to, but I’m going to fight for my constitutional rights”. I am, I assure you, as private a person as you’ll ever find; if I had political or religious affiliations, there’s no way I’d promote them on Facebook. And I’m no big fan of government incursion; I’ve long spoken out against official efforts to restrict the sexual, reproductive and marital choices of citizens, which I find far more intrusive than the collection of metadata — and infinitely more intrusive than gun regulation. Yet I also see merit in the argument that the president and the NSA should be thanked.
But here’s the deal. No matter whether we like it or not, the NSA program is being carried out either in accordance with or at least under the umbrella of the law of the land. It may not be good law. It may not even be on sound constitutional footing. But it is the law nonetheless. And in a sane and civil society, when people don’t like the law, they work to change it, and to close the loopholes.
In Twenty-first Century America, however, when people don’t like the law, their first impulse is to crucify the president for following it. (Or presume to know clairvoyantly that he is violating the law.) At least if the president happens to be a Democrat with initials BHO. And I’m just suggesting that it might be an instructive exercise to ponder why this is the case.
(See prior post, The Great American Scandal Scam, Part 1: The IRS Obsession.)
Two posts on Media Matters’ website caught my eye recently, as they were very telling about contemporary political discourse and propaganda, and the politico-social movement known as “conservatism” (though in fact it’s anything but conservative).
One involved right-wing pundit Ben Stein, who declared in an interview that “the science is not clear on global warming”. That in itself is not particularly unusual; there are many people who are convinced they know more about science than scientists do, and they have every right to make fools of themselves by saying so in public. “The science is not clear” is often a handy circumlocution for “scientists are part of a sinister conspiracy to pervert the truth, which only Glenn Beck is qualified to utter.” But what really made my ears stand at attention was his reference to those scientists as “global warming terrorists”. Apparently, our species has devolved to the point that research is considered a weapon of mass destruction; and providing facts that contradict right-wing dogma is tantamount to launching an attack on America itself.
The other item involves Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who gave a speech in which he lamented “Washington’s ongoing assault on free speech”, which is part of a “coordinated assault from groups on the left that don’t like the idea of anyone criticizing their aims” that tries to “harass” and “intimidate conservatives with the goal of scaring them off the political playing field…a grave and growing threat to the First Amendment.” Phew.
And what evidence did McConnell provide in support of his vast left-wing conspiracy theory? The existence of Media Matters itself! By meticulously researching and politely publishing instances of right-wing misinformation, Media Matters supposedly is trampling all over the First Amendment. He seems to be taking his cues from Fox “News”, a frequent target of Media Matters. Fox loves to brand Media Matters as a “left-wing smear site”, though it can’t be bothered to produce a single smear to back up that label. Apparently, our species not only has devolved to the point that supplying inconvenient facts is un-American; it has devolved to the point that correcting untruths, even in a supremely civil manner, is un-American.
These are singular incidents , but they are all too representative of the right-wing mindset these days — a combination of arrogance, myopia, contempt, divisiveness and disinformation that spell out why “conservatism” is far beyond being taken seriously. Sure, you’ll also sometimes find left-wingers who are loose with their facts and even hostile toward those who challenge them. But they generally don’t regard fact-checking, however misguided, as a threat to the First Amendment; and they’re much more likely to embrace science than trash it.
With right-wingers, however, these aren’t just occasional occurrences; they’re standard policy. It’s easy to dismiss Stein as a fringe figure, (and he is in fact far less arrogant and venomous than the average right-wing propagandist). But McConnell has served in the Senate for nearly three decades, and has been the Minority Leader for several years. And Fox, lest we forget, is the most heavily viewed “news” network, and the de facto voice of “conservatism”.
Given all of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the focus of this blog is mostly right-wing rather than left-wing propaganda. It’s not just a matter of personal “bias”.
As an officer of a small tax-exempt nonprofit corporation, I recently completed its annual filing requirements with the IRS. The process was handled online and took about two minutes. Yes, you read that right. TWO MINUTES. This is in marked contrast to a couple of years ago, when the organization’s informational form required more or less as much time as an individual tax return. Under the Obama administration, the IRS has VERY GREATLY simplified the paperwork for small organizations like ours, and DOUBLED the income threshold under which organizations may qualify for such simplified processing. But this is not what you’ve been hearing from the media.
What you’ve been hearing from the media is that the Obama administration is embroiled in an “IRS scandal”, with adjectives like “Orwellian” and “Nixonian” and “chilling” routinely slapped on. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the latter adjective invoked, or of how many times I’ve seen headlines like “IRS Admits to Targeting Conservative Groups”. Texas Republican Kevin Brady even asked an IRS official “Is this still America?” The Spin Machine has churned out some very concentrated work here.
First of all, it wasn’t the IRS as a whole that committed the supposedly abominable acts in question; it was a handful of low-level and overworked employees at a single IRS office, burdened with the task of filtering out applications of genuine charities for tax-exempt status from applications of activist groups trying to game the system. And it certainly wasn’t anything that President Obama personally was involved in. It’s highly amusing to see that those who have been calling for his testicles on a platter over this “scandal” are often among those who believe — or claim to believe – that he can’t even speak without a teleprompter; yet they also seem to believe that he personally dictates every little action by each of the nation’s 4.4 million federal employees.
Second, “targeting” is a very interesting word choice. It suggests that the IRS audited these organizations, or sent out thugs to seize their property and padlock their doors, rather than just making sure new tax-exempt organizations dotted the i and crossed the t.
Third, these were generally not conservative groups, but just the opposite — radical right-wing groups that preach hatred of the government, of the Obama administration in particular, and — lest we forget – taxes. And you’re outraged because a few employees of the IRS suspected that maybe these organizations might be less than forthright about their tax-exempt status? Seriously?
One pretext for the outrage is that the “targeting” was not done evenhandedly, but that right-wing applicants were flagged more frequently than left-wing or neutral applicants. And in theory, it sounds fair to treat everyone equally. But on the real planet earth, right-wing groups simply raise more red flags to be flagged for. Though things were different half a century ago, it’s not currently the left-wing groups that are bitching about taxes and glorifying violent revolt against the government. Thus, if “treating everyone equally” means making certain that everyone equally abides by guidelines, then (though it may sound paradoxical) it actually requires focusing an especially tight lens on right-wing organizations.
The official spin is that Tea Party affiliates were “targeted” because of their ideology. Few among the talking heads in the media or the GOP are willing to even consider the possibility that they were in fact “targeted” because of their actions. The right-wing Leadership Foundation has tried to cash in on the “IRS scandal” bandwagon on the basis of an audit that was initiated initiated more than TWO YEARS ago of activities the organization conducted FIVE years ago. The Foundation has been affiliated with the likes of Karl Rove and even James O’Keefe. Yet it protests that it has been “targeted” by the IRS purely because of its convictions.
Many “news” outlets have revealed that the IRS commissioner who supposedly was doing Obama’s evil bidding was a Bush appointee (no no no, wingers, this is not the same as “blaming Bush”). What isn’t so much reported is that the IRS manager who actually instigated the “targeting” was himself a “conservative Republican”. That just doesn’t fit the narrative very well.
Tax-exempt organizations, whether of a political nature or not, must operate within a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and genuinely educational framework. And many political organizations have been falsely passing themselves off as charities for years with impunity in order to abuse the system.
Furthermore, an increasing number of “conservative” churches — a type of entity that does normally fit the standards for tax-exempt charity categorization – have also thumbed their noses at the regulations they’ve agreed to abide by, using their pulpits to stump for political candidates. Or more precisely, they’ve been using their pulpits to stump against political candidates. More specifically, any and every Democrat. Especially Obama, about whom they’ve joined the nutball chorus railing against “socialism”, “death panels”, etc. etc. Yet the IRS and the Obama administration have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear.
To be sure, the IRS has been known in the past to persecute organizations for political reasons. There was, for example, the audit of the NAACP. And the one of Greenpeace. And the intimidation of All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena. But those aren’t exactly “conservative” organizations. In fact, they’re organizations that are usually considered quite “liberal”. And these episodes didn’t occur under President Obama; they occurred under George W. Bush.
Furthermore, these groups were not “targeted” merely by having their applications scrutinized. The NAACP was audited after it criticized Bush for being the only acting president since Hoover not to address the organization. All Saints was threatened with revocation of its tax-exempt status after it spoke out of against the war — something conscientious Christians have been doing for ages. And Greenpeace was audited after it called Exxon Mobil the “number 1 climate criminal” — an audit launched specifically at the urging of the right-wing Public Interest Watch, which was heavily funded by Exxon Mobil.
And to what extent did the GOP and its media enablers regard these actions as scandalous and chilling and un-American? Well, um, they didn’t exactly say. But when Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff tried to launch an investigation of the Bush administration’s IRS for what were evidently blatant and severe abuses of power, he found a grand total of ONE Republican in Congress who was willing to cooperate. The indignant guardians of justice and liberty at Fox responded with a chorus of crickets.
But with a Democrat in the White House, the world is turned on its ear — or at least the world of the wingers. You may recall how they threw everything they could at Clinton in hopes that something would stick; that apparently wasn’t just a fluke, but the new standard playbook. Only it appears to have become even worse. Much, much worse — unless it’s true that the vendetta against Obama is largely racially motivated.
Far-right mouthpieces hiccup the word “impeach” in a Pavlovian fashion every time the President breaks wind, generating a fad that the incomparable Rachel Maddow characterizes as the “impeach Obama for something — anything” craze. In their rare moments of candor and lucidity, the scandal-mongers will acknowledge that they don’t have a ghost of a hint of a shred of actual grounds for impeachment. But hey, they’re keeping the impeachment machine well oiled with propaganda anyway, just in case some miracle does fall from the clouds and into their laps.
Once upon a time — say, in the day of the Founders of the Republic — impeachment was a procedure reserved for the most grave of offenses by a chief executive. There is no indication that Obama has broken any law at all, much less one that serious. Hell, he hasn’t even been carrying on with an intern. But it’s just so much fun to blame all the country’s problems on him, isn’t it?
The IRS “scandal” is just one in a long series of phony scandals the GOP has tried to plaster Obama with — another supposed regime-toppling outrage that is (say it together one more time, kiddies) “worse than Watergate”. One in a long series of Watergates/ Waterloos the media have tried to assign to this president. None of which has held more than a spoonful of water.
(Next: NSA and some other nifty letters.)
A senseless act of violence (or a tragedy if you will) like the Boston Marathon bombing has a way of bringing out the best in most people. A wounded veteran of combat in Afghanistan comforted an injured woman, showing her his scars and assuring her that she would survive. An intern who had just finished a 14-hour hospital shift pitched right in and began treating the wounded. Hundreds of local residents rushed from their homes to supply water and first aid, sometimes using their belts for tourniquets.
Unfortunately, such an incident also brings out the worst in some people. For the right-wing fanatics, every such occasion is a golden opportunity to do what they live for: spread hate, divisiveness and paranoia — and try to score political points by taking cheap shots at President Obama and “liberals”. Part of the spin after this particular incident was to declare that Obama is irresponsible and incompetent with national security because he allowed 3 Americans to be killed in a terrorist strike on American soil — while Bush kept us safe because he allowed only 3000 to be killed.
These folks can’t even display enough respect for the victims or basic human decency to wait a few hours before launching into attack mode; they start cranking out the venom as soon as the news breaks. Nothing is more important than giving voice to their irrational, deranged, all-consuming hatred for the guy in the White House and anyone who might possibly like him even a little bit.
Naturally, guns always figure in the mix. Right on cue after Sandy Hook, the gun lobby went into “it could have happened with a nail file” mode, making puerile smears against anyone who dared challenge the supremacy of the almighty gun. The ever-entertaining National Review characterized Gabrielle Giffords’ outrage over the NRA’s grip on Congress as “childish” and “an embarrassment”. The general attitude among right-wing reactionaries toward shooting victims is that by making their voice heard they are “bullies” and “props” of the Obama administration who have no business getting involved in the discussion over guns. And while the grief in Newtown was still raw, the NRA displayed its usual classiness by targeting the community with pro-gun robocalls and other propaganda.
But the attack in Boston wasn’t a shooting. So there was no reason to even bring up guns, eh? Do you really thing they’d let a little thing like that stop them? Sure, it took Wayne LaPierre a couple of weeks to proclaim that we obviously need more guns to protect us from pressure cookers – to invoke the bombing in incendiary pro-gun rhetoric, and to exploit violence for personal gain, while accusing the proponents of “gun control” of doing the same, of course. (In case you didn’t know, when the president responds to gun violence by supporting measures to prevent it from occurring it again, that’s called political grandstanding and suppressing freedom; when the gun lobby exploits violence to whip up paranoia and increase profits, it’s called defending liberty. Everybody clear?)
But not to worry, Arkansas legislator Nate Bell took up the slack for LaPierre’s excessive delay. While authorities were in pursuit of the attackers, he Tweeted:
I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?
This understandably sparked a great deal of outrage, especially among Bostonians. Some of the responses were as crude as his comment solicited. Others were more sophisticated. My favorite was this:
I invite you to Boston. So you can witness true toughness, compassion and humanity. Toughest city on earth. No guns required.
That’s the Boston I know and love. Incidentally Bell, unlike others of his breed, at least had the decency to issue a half-assed apology — not for the “content” but for the “timing”. In other words, it appears he still believes that anyone who doesn’t hide behind a hunk of metal is “cowering”, but he realizes he didn’t select the most tactful possible time to say so.
Immediately after the bombing, right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham seized the opportunity to ratchet up the hysteria over immigration, and Fox contributor Erik Rush suggested of Muslims, “Let’s kill them all.” Mind you, both of these responses were delivered before ANYTHING was known about the suspects. After the suspects were identified, and one of the alleged bombers and three of his acquaintances were discovered to be students at University Of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Bill O’Reilly concluded that there must be a “huge problem” with the school itself.
The Westboro Baptist Church also weighed in, blaming the violence on Obama, abortion and gays. Makes perfect sense if you snort gunpowder and Bibles long enough. At least a couple of right-wing gun fanatics declared that “liberals” love it when things like this happen. (If anybody “loves” it, it would have to be the people who seek occasions to make idiotic utterances like that.) And dear old Rush Limbaugh concluded that the bombers were obviously influenced by the “liberal elite intellectual thought” in Boston. Can’t allow any of that intellectual thought, it’s quite dangerous — among other things, it might damage Rush’s ratings.
In fact, it appears the terrorists were influenced by rabidly right-wing slime merchant Alex Jones, whose tin hat delusions have been mainstreamed by Republicans in Congress (not the first time a terrorist has been a fan of his). Jones, who is gifted with an extraordinary capacity to find a sinister conspiracy in every leaf and snowflake, didn’t disappoint this time around. Within MINUTES of the news from Boston, he was Tweeting things like this:
Explosions at the Boston Marathon. Don’t that the FBI [sic] has been behind virtually every domestic terror plot in the US, as NY Times reported.
A False flag, in case you’re still unfamiliar with the term after all the batting about it’s been getting in the last few years, is an incident in which a government attacks its own people (or even an individual fakes an attack on himself/ herself) in order to cast blame on someone else. It has become an automatic response among the Alex Joneses of the world to declare that any terrorist attack, any disaster, any act of mass violence must have been staged by the Obama administration for some reason or other. The existence of emergency preparedness drills that utilize “crisis actors” is all the proof these folks need that the victims of actual disasters are merely faking it. There are people out there who believe that nobody really died in Boston, in Newtown, in Aurora, or even in the World Trade Center. And whenever you encounter such an individual, the odds are excellent that he’ll be a fawning fan of Alex Jones.
It’s also an excellent bet that he’ll be a big fan of Alex’s chief rival for the Kool-Aid Crown, Glenn Beck — who also was true to form. He declared not only that Obama was behind the bombing, but that he was shielding a Saudi who had carried out the deed at his behest. Furthermore, the Beckster gave the president an ultimatum to come clean by April 22, or else he would “expose” the administration big time. Don’t look now, Glenn, but April 22 has quietly come and gone, and you still haven’t exposed anyone but yourself — and most Americans are really wishing you’d zip it back up. By the way, don’t you and AJ even talk to each other enough to get your stories straight? Did the president orchestrate a real attack or a hoax? Sheesh!
Granted, some people also suspected initially that the culprits were connected with a radical Tea Party faction. (I was among them, but I exercised the discretion not to voice that suspicion in public.) After all, the attack occurred on tax day, and one of the primary objectives of the Tea Party is, supposedly, to protest taxes. It occurred in Boston, site of the real Tea Party. And Tea Party rhetoric tends to be incendiary, and often is laced with subtle and not-so-subtle exhortations to violence. These are all solid facts, not just “evidence” pulled out of the ass of someone who’s been fed a steady diet of ideological frenzy. In any case, there’s a difference between entertaining suspicions and turning them into presumptions, paranoia, propaganda and perfidy.
The most sickening trope to make the rounds, for my money at least, concerned Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs to terrorism. The wingers circulated a graphic photo of him at the scene, falsely identifying him as a vet who’d lost his limbs in combat, and suggesting that he’d been fitted with prosthetics that day so he could add a touch of realism to the elaborate hoax. (As Snopes mentions, it’s a common tactic among perpetrators of such rumors to find a Person B who bears a superficial resemblance to Person A, and declare that they’re one and the same.)
In our own universe, however, Bauman’s legs were intact until April 15. But he did become a hero of sorts by assisting in the identification of the suspects. Heavily medicated in the hospital, and unable to speak, he nonetheless grabbed pen and paper and scribbled a note to indicate that he had seen one of the bombers. and the information he provided proved useful in zeroing in on the alleged terrorists.
This, surely, is Boston at its best. It’s what men like Jeff Bauman do while other people are using him as a prop to circulate nutty rumors about the president. And demonstrating their “patriotism” by venting their obsessive loathing for half of their fellow Americans.
Circular Firing Squad; the Gun Culture’s Curious Campaign of Irony, Hypocrisy, Contradiction and Self-Abasement
Let’s be clear: most gun owners are (to the best of my knowledge) rather sane and reasonable individuals. But the public forum has never been dominated by sanity or reason. Instead, it’s dominated by those who are the loudest and most obnoxious; thus, gun issues are perennially represented by what we call the gun culture – meaning those to whom guns are not only important, but are a way of life. It’s a relatively small cult, but its members are mad as hell about… well, something. Always. They’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re confrontational, and — quite often — they’re self-sabotaging and downright cannibalistic.
I probably don’t have to tell you how they reacted when the President of the United States uttered the following:
“While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.” And “Certain forms of ammunition have no legitimate sporting, recreational, or self-defense use and thus should be prohibited.”
And you surely can guess how they screeched when the head of the nation’s foremost gun control organization declared this:
“I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons… I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”
“Nazi”? “Communist”? “Terrorist”? “Frenchman”? Actually, it might surprise you to learn that they said none of these things. I tricked you. The president quoted above wasn’t Barack H. Obama, but Ronald W. Reagan. That’s right: The Gipper was an outspoken, if not entirely consistent, advocate of “gun control”, even before he had a personal stake in it. (And incidentally, in the photo above, taken just before he was shot, he’s surrounded by armed and highly trained gunmen whose sole responsibility is his safety. Which casts a very long shadow of doubt on the gunsters’ prime tenet that surrounding yourself with fire power necessarily makes you safer.)
This is a cause of considerable cognitive dissonance among gunsters, many of whom desperately want to paint the debate over guns as a “liberal” vs. “conservative” conflict, and to peg “gun control” as being a matter of “them librulz want to take away our guns, but I’m gonna fight off a whole army of them.” But in fact many “liberals” (specifically, about 25 percent of Democrats) own guns and many “conservatives” support “gun control” — even those measures pushed by President Obama, whom they’ve been conditioned to oppose at every turn. This despite the fact that some polls frame the issue as “gun control” versus “the right to own guns”, which is a bullshit stacked-deck question — the two are by no means mutually exclusive.
Michael Moore is a lifetime member of the NRA. James Brady, lest we forget, was a (Republican) member of Reagan’s staff before he became an activist after the reality of gun violence struck too close to home. In other words, “gun control” is not the most suitable of lenses for those wishing to view the world in black and white, and it appears the gun culture is intentionally alienating people whom they could very much use as allies. The evidence suggests that for the past three decades, the NRA’s primary focus has been promoting reactionary politics rather than promoting responsible gun ownership.
Not only most gun owners, but most members of the NRA support one or more gun control measures. The NRA leadership, however, routinely battles any and every measure to regulate firearms in any fashion. In so doing, they are countering the wishes of most of their followers. Yet their followers continue to be loyal; if that isn’t characteristic of a cult, what is?
It was not always thus. Remember that quote above from the leader of the most prominent “gun control” organization? We don’t mean James Brady. Those words were spoken by Karl Frederick, an Olympic shooter who at the time he made this statement was president of the NRA. Yes, that NRA. For the first century of its existence, the NRA was the foremost advocacy group for “gun control” in the nation. But that was before it discovered that there are much heftier profits to be made by vilifying “gun control” and its proponents, and whipping up hysteria among impressionable tin hat right-wingers. But by ferociously battling “gun control”, LaPierre and company are not only spitting in the faces of their constituents, but spitting upon their organization’s own heritage.
When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, and the NRA was still in its “gun control” phase, “conservative” politicians were very much in favor of placing heavy restrictions on firearms. One reason was that, in California at least, they were facing what they perceived as a threat to public safety posed by, um, certain armed citizens:
This even led to the passage of a law in the state, the Mulford Act, which was signed into effect by Gov. Reagan, who commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” And the NRA, by the way, helped fashion similar legislation in other states. Its own actions weren’t necessarily motivated by racial concerns; remember, it had been a champion of firearm regulation all along. For Reagan and other right-wing politicians, however, it’s hard not to conclude that they were dirtying their drawers not just because of armed citizens, but armed citizens of a particular ethnic flavor.
I don’t mean to suggest that race plays a significant role in right-wing “gun control” politics or anything. I’m sure that if a bunch of armed white guys showed up at a public gathering, the NRA and The Tea Party would be just as concerned and outraged. Wouldn’t they?
Well, they have yet to demonstrate it. And they have yet to demonstrate that they’re as concerned about deranged mass murderers with guns as they are about African-American activists with guns. Yet today’s NRA diehards, while denying any racist bent to their own motivations, often declare that racism has always been a prime motive for “liberal”- inspired “gun control” — in large part because over 150 years ago, unarmed slaves had a hard time fighting for their freedom. Yes, seriously.
Despite its ill-informed elevation of Ronald Reagan to figurehead status, one could make a case that the gun culture really didn’t have a warm and cuddly bedmate in the White House until Bush. The younger Bush. His father, though he had the backing of the NRA during his initial run for president in 1988, pissed them off so much during his term that they opposed him during his second run. Three years later he renounced his lifetime membership in the cult when Wayne LaPierre (who at that time was its executive vice president) called ATF agents “jack-booted thugs” who were “scarier than the Nazis”. The NRA is a group that likes to portray itself as super-patriotic, doncha know.
Bush had been personally acquainted with several agents, including one who died in the Oklahoma City blast, which was fueled by NRA-flavored contempt for “the government”. And while I don’t know how many federal agents had been NRA boosters before McVeigh and LaPierre detonated their respective bombs, I’m willing to bet that there were considerably fewer subsequently. Way to rally those troops, Wayne.
Then along came Bush the Younger, and the gun lobby was in hog heaven. Oh, he didn’t do quite as much ass-kissing as they would have liked, and on occasion he even paid lip service to stricter gun laws. But on the other hand he appointed two Supreme Court justices who were willing to essentially rewrite the Second Amendment to the gun lobby’s liking. You can’t hope for much more than that.
And Dick Cheney, who was vice president (at least according to the Supreme Court) openly indulged in passionate lovemaking with the NRA, even speaking at its convention. And here’s where something really interesting happened. While addressing an assemblage of a cult that had become devoted to the maxim that any kind of restraint against firearms was pure evil (no word on whether he consulted his hunting partners on that), Mr. Cheney exercised the most extreme form of “gun control” of all: attendees had to check their hardware at the door.
I know, I know: it was really the Secret Service who insisted on this, and not the Mr. Cheney-who-never-thinks-about-his-flaws himself. But c’mon: he was the second most powerful human on the planet (many would say, with good reason, that he was actually the first). You mean to say that he couldn’t have overridden their orders if he hadn’t considered his own safety more important than that of the average citizen affected by the presence of guns? He and the NRA had a golden opportunity to practice what they preached, and send a message to the nation about just how sincere they were in standing against “gun control”. But they blew it big time.
Am I suggesting that the prohibition against the audience being armed at an appearance by the putative vice president is the same as the type of “gun control” that is applied to society at large? Not at all. Society at large is made up of all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. The annual gun cult gathering is a highly controlled environment, and for Cheney’s appearance, it was patrolled by a top-notch security force. It was attended by people who are allegedly responsible, law-abiding gun owners — most of whom believe that an armed society is a polite society and guns make you safer and guns don’t kill, people do. But when confronted with the chance to put their barrels where their mouths are, Cheney and his NRA accomplices essentially told the faithful to go Cheney themselves, and did exactly what so many of them falsely accuse Barack Obama (and Adolf Hitler) of doing: they took away everyone’s guns.
And that brings us to the present, and to the chief executive who, for some reason or other, is even more of a godsend for the gunsters — not because he gives them everything they want, but because they can get away with pretending that he’s trying to take away everything they have. In the real world, Obama is no more restrictive on guns than was Reagan; and for that matter, he’s only slightly more “liberal”. Yet the gun culture deifies one and demonizes the other. Which leads one to suspect rather strongly that his complexion might be a factor — particularly when one considers that the gunsters are even far more hostile toward Obama than they were toward Clinton, even though the latter was at least as gung ho about “gun control”, at least as “liberal”, and was a Democrat to boot.
We’ve already given far, far FAR more attention to the Obama-Hitler meme (here, and here and here) than it ever deserved. Unfortunately, it’s still bringing in the lion’s share of page views and comments on this site. No wonder; it’s a trope so misguided, so hateful, so deranged, so monumentally idiotic that it was bound to become a solid fixture in the gunster gospel. The “thinking” goes like this: because Obama is trying to outlaw guns (which he isn’t) that makes him just like Hitler (who also didn’t), whose nonexistent gun ban made the Holocaust possible.
These are the same folks who love to proclaim that “gun control doesn’t work”, yet they also declare that “gun control” was nonetheless responsible for the quintessential tyranny and genocide in world history. When I point out this contradiction to them, the response I tend to get is “You fucking moron! This is different!” Oh. Now I’m really confused. Is Obama a Hitler clone or isn’t he? Does “gun control” work or doesn’t it? What’s that you say? Ah. “Gun control” doesn’t work to reduce crime, but it does work to enable a dictator to control the populace. So it always works to try to eliminate all guns, but it never works to try to eliminate just a few of them. Got it.
It has become an automatic response from gunsters to “defend” guns and all the harm they do by claiming that more people are killed by knives and/or blunt instruments. Both of which are irrelevant. Not to mention not even close to being true. And of course, they absolutely must point out that more people are killed by automobiles. Which actually is true, but probably not for long. True or not, it’s a breathtakingly inept attempt at defense. Automobiles are designed for a constructive purpose rather than for killing, and are in use constantly, everywhere. Furthermore, their use is rather strictly regulated. Gunsters are being sarcastic when they suggest that those deadly cars should be regulated like guns; but I doubt if any advocates for gun regulation would have any problem with taking that quite literally.
The Second Amendment crowd particularly has its thong in a bunch over the president’s drawing a bead on assault weapons. It isn’t just that they don’t think assault weapons should be restricted; they don’t think there’s any such thing as an assault weapon. It is, they assert, just a fuzzy term made up by the media and other assorted libruls as an excuse to deprive them of their liberty.
Really? Looks like somebody forgot to pass that memo along to the Merchants of Death themselves:
Don’t look now, but the media deceived you: the 2012 presidential election wasn’t really as close as they wanted you to believe. Nonetheless, it did for a brief time become competitive, and for a fleeting moment it even appeared possible that Mitt Romney had a chance to be elected President of the United States. If that prospect scares the living crap out of you, you’re not alone. I can’t think of anything that a Romney presidency wouldn’t have made worse, and I can think of many things that it would have made much worse. What caused this near catastrophe? One word: propaganda. One of the most intensive, nastiest, multi-pronged propaganda campaigns in history.
When you look at what he was up against, President Obama’s reelection was truly miraculous. The Republicans failed to unseat him; and yet their campaign of deceit was, in a way, quite successful just because it made the race so close. Essentially, the GOP has two options now: (a) conclude that their tactics didn’t work, and play like grown-ups in the future, or (b) conclude that they just didn’t go far enough, and be even nastier next time around. I’d bet the deed to the oil field on the latter.
In the next few posts, we’ll take a look at some specific propaganda factors that likely played a key role in making this election a race instead of a slam dunk.
Factor # 1: Partisan Sabotage
From day one of Obama’s term, many Republicans and other assorted right-wingers were focused on one goal: to make certain he didn’t get reelected. To accomplish this, Republicans in Congress did their best to make certain he failed at everything he attempted so they could portray him as a failure come election season; and it didn’t matter to them that this meant thwarting his plans to boost the economy and put Americans back to work. They were willing to sacrifice millions of American citizens for their own political capital.
Okay, okay. You’re gonna respond that when it comes to obstructionism, “both sides do it”. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t support that canard. While Democrats supported Bush’s major initiatives about 43 percent of the time on average, Republicans have supported Obama’s major initiatives only about 3 percent of the time on average.
And note that there is a difference between opposition and obstruction. It’s essentially the difference between not liking something a president proposes and not liking the president no matter what he proposes. You’d expect that one party would oppose the other’s objectives about half the time; that’s the whole purpose of having different parties — they’re supposed to balance each other out, and result in a more (nearly) perfect union. At least that’s theoretically how it was supposed to work in those days of yore before the GOP was seized by power-obsessed, no-compromise ideologues.
There’s also a difference between run-of-the-mill obstruction and sabotage. The latter is what happens when you have one party conspiring to block everything a president does in order to make him look bad and get unelected. And for an added touch of chutzpah, they nominated one of the conspirators as the vice presidential candidate.
It seems strange to recall in my high school civics class making a presentation in which I urged my fellow students and future voters to “vote for the candidate and not the party”. That may have been sound advice at the time, but I can no longer recommend that anyone ever support a Republican in a national election — not just because the core of the GOP has devolved into a cult of Medieval ideology, tin-hat paranoia and vituperative scapegoating; and not just because it practices the most venomous and dishonest propaganda imaginable. But also because it resorts to juvenile stonewalling for political gain. Had this particular assault succeeded, it would have set a very dangerous precedent indeed.
Factor # 2: The Bully Pulpit
It has become quite common — a virtual epidemic — for “conservative” churches to use their influence for political proselytizing, thumbing their noses at the IRS guidelines for tax-exempt organizations to which they’ve agreed to adhere. They know they can get away with this abuse of privilege because the government won’t dare crack down on them, lest they howl about “religious persecution” and elicit outraged sympathy among the ill-informed.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of supposedly subtle exhortations such as “I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but vote your conscience”, wink wink. But quite often, ministers are direct conduits for the most insane and hateful of anti-Obama (read:anti-Democratic) rants: he’s the Anti-Christ, he’s a communist/socialist/fascist, he’s destroying the country and the constitution, etc., etc., etc. Some preachers even tell their congregations that they’ll “go to hell” for electing a non-Republican. Yes, seriously.
This alliance between political “conservatives” and religious “conservatives” is a bizarre one indeed — among other things, it unites followers of a guy who urged taking care of the poor with followers of guys who say that taking care of the poor encourages indolence, while taking care of the rich encourages industriousness. But it is nonetheless a very powerful alliance, an alliance that is arguably much more effective than the sum of its incongruous parts.
When political arrogance mates with religious arrogance, the offspring is a whole new breed of super-arrogance, resulting in an overwhelming sense of (to use a word that right-wingers love to pronounce with a snarl) entitlement. These people believe they have an inviolable right to have their way. They were quite unprepared for the possibility that their boy might lose, because they really and truly believed that they had God counting the ballots for them. (Even Mitt Romney reportedly was so assured of victory that he didn’t even prepare a concession speech — but he definitely did prepare a transition website for his administration.) When defeat did come, they took it as a sign that Americans had abandoned God (and/or vice versa) and that the End Days are near, just as they have been for a couple of millennia now.
But churches aren’t the only bully pulpits in operation. It also has become a common practice for businesses to pressure their employees into voting Republican, even by issuing thinly veiled threats of termination if they don’t. Again, this is sometimes just a matter of a supposedly subtle hint. But in the case of Bob Murray, Ohio-based CEO of Murray Energy, it was a bit more blunt: he apparently forced his employees to miss work without pay in order to attend a Romney rally, and also pressured them to make donations to the Romney campaign.
After the election, he promptly made good on his threats by firing 156 workers, after uttering a typically arrogant “prayer” asking God to deliver America from its evil ways in supporting Obama’s reelection. Nor is he the only tycoon to take out his political frustrations on employees at the bottom rung. There’s a budding epidemic of that as well.
One sad byproduct of this right-wing arrogance, bullying and acrimony has been the destruction of many personal relations between friends and relatives who have differing political convictions. I have heard of many instances in which Obama supporters have had angry right-wingers sever all ties with them — or have themselves been compelled to sever ties with right-wingers who were being unbearably nasty toward them. So if you voted for Obama, you might want to keep it to yourself if you prize your associations with certain Obama haters. You know who they are. They’re the same ones who called you to gloat after the 2004 election.