More on False Equivalence: “Both Sides Do It”

swordfight

In the previous post about False Equivalence, we mentioned the “Both Sides Do It” tactic, which consists of trying to deflect criticism from Faction A about the behavior of Faction B by maintaining that Faction A is just as guilty of the same thing. In particular, you’ll frequently hear the assertion that left-wing extremists are just as vicious and nasty and loony as right-wing extremists (or even more so). If this is true, then there should be ample illustrations, right? And if there were ample illustrations, then right-wing fanatics surely would produce them, right? So why is it that the examples they produce are almost invariably false equivalences?

If you comment disapprovingly, for instance, about the cancer that is Fox “News”, then chances are somebody will respond with “hey, they’re just providing balance to all the liberal media out there, such as MSNBC”.  But even if you grant that there is a “liberal” bias to the other networks (a huge, huge presumption to say the least), that bias is nowhere near as pronounced as that of Fox. Furthermore, no other network engages in deliberate distortion and deception and hate-baiting to anywhere near the extent that Fox does. Nor does nay other network or media source enjoy the kind of power and influence Fox does. Fox is in a (classless) class all by itself.

When people compare “right-wing hate speech” with “left-wing hate speech”, they’re often talking about two very different things. They redefine incivility as it suits their needs. The “Both Sides Do It” mambo is in fact my favorite type of false equivalence, because it comes in so many varieties, comprising a virtual textbook on false equivalence variations. Here are a few of them:

1. The few vs. the many

As mentioned previously, Ann Coulter spent 352 pages failing spectacularly to substantiate her premise that “liberals hate conservatives” in Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.  In all those pages, she managed to produce only 4 possible examples of supposed “liberals” trashing “conservatives”. Four doesn’t seem like a very large number for the purposes of proving such a point — particularly when contrasted with, say, 163. That’s the minimum number of times Coulter herself attacked “liberals” in the same book.

What she did is called cherry picking, among other things. It also would be cherry picking to draw a conclusion about the right-wing punditocracy merely on the basis of her actions. But alas, she’s far from alone. This was only one of many books written by only one of many many right-wing extremists spending many many many hours and days and years writing such books and magazine articles and blogs, and endlessly prattling on radio and TV.

2. The specific vs. the general

And that was by no means Coulter’s only sin. She also tried to back up her “liberals hate conservatives” thesis by equating utterances by “liberals” about specific “conservatives” with a blanket condemnation of “conservatives” in general. With about 100,000,000 Americans who consider themselves “conservative”, you could trash some 50,000,000 specific “conservatives” without proving that you hate “conservatives” on the whole. And Coulter’s tally, let me remind you, isn’t quite that high. Meanwhile, she and her fellow right-wing pundits do indulge to the nth degree in vilifying “liberals” in general.

Quick, who is the “liberal” equivalent of Ann Coulter? If you answered Michael Moore, you’re buying into a narrative often pushed by the media — and by people who obviously have never read any of Moore’s books. He is probably indeed the most prominent among left-wing pundits, but he couldn’t be more different from Coulter. Far from attacking “conservatives” in general, he’s made a point of praising them where appropriate. (Likewise Al Franken and other outspoken leftists.) Hell, he even bent over backward to praise certain personal traits of George W. Bush, who on a political level has been one of his prime targets. Can you imagine Coulter (or Beck or Hannity or Limbaugh,etc. etc. etc.) saying a single word about Obama or “liberals” that isn’t utterly drenched in scorpion’s milk? Can you imagine Moore saying anything comparable to Coulter’s “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is that he did not go to The New York Times building”?

3. The fringe vs. the mainstream

Hang out on an Internet chat forum long enough, and you’ll hear some pretty nasty things from members of just about any and every “ism” conceivable. But does that mean that their actions are truly representative of their respective ideologies? Or are they just the extremist fringe of their groups?

And here is another area in which “liberals” differ from “conservatives”.  The left wing has its loony fringe too, but the Left tends to keep its loonies on the fringe. Lyndon LaRouche is officially a Democrat, but he’s always been shunned by the Democratic mainstream. President Obama distanced himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright when the latter’s rhetoric became what was considered incendiary — or, if you prefer, when the public found out about the association. Either way, he exhibited some embarrassment about whom he’d rubbed elbows with. And by the way, Wright’s remarks were nowhere near as incendiary as they were painted; few were even that opinionated. Many of his utterances branded as “anti-American”  (“The government lied.”) and “racist” (“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed.”)  were statements of verifiable fact. To a large extent, incivility was drastically redefined for a black librul.

The Right, on the other hand, openly and warmly embraces its own loony fringe, with the Tea Party working hand-in-hand with the (supposedly different) Republican Party. Indeed there’s really not much distinction anymore between “conservative” fringe and “conservative” mainstream. Anybody ever hear of Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz? Rick Perry? Michele Bachman?

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, at which the main activity (if not the only activity) is demonizing “liberals” has featured appearances by George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, along with Ann Coulter, Wayne LaPierre, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. During his tenure as Vice President, Dick Cheney was a guest on Rush Limbaugh’s program no fewer than 5 times. (Yes, this is the same Dick Cheney who said “I thought some of the things [Wright] said were absolutely appalling… I was stunned at what the reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his Web site.”) George H.W. Bush was a close ally of and paid promoter for vituperative, delusional, fascist-leaning cult leader (and convicted tax cheat) Sun Myung Moon, who among other things claimed to have presided over the posthumous wedding of Jesus. And so on. And on and on and on.

4. Words vs. actions

Sure, some leftists have unsavory things to say about, for example, “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays. But “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays, enact laws to marginalize gays.

Similarly, if you mention how hatefully and savagely Christians have treated non-Christians over the centuries, you may hear some Christians say, “well hey, I tried talking to some atheists on a website and they were very rude to me; so obviously they’re capable of being nasty too” No doubt. And there’s rarely a good excuse for rudeness.  But surely you don’t mean to put that in a league with burning people at the stake or skinning them alive? Or even bullying them on the schoolyard and in the classroom? Or even passing laws to discriminate against them? Or even barring them from belonging to certain organizations? The fact that some of these things were done with smiling faces while reciting Bible passages doesn’t make them any less hateful.

5. Different contexts

Another thing about the above example is that, while the rudeness may not be justified, it’s at least understandable when you consider all the oppression and persecution and marginalization atheists have endured. Christians have rarely if ever undergone anything comparable. (No, it doesn’t work to equate the atrocities committed by Christians during, say the Inquisition with the casualties that occurred during the scant handful of dictatorships that have been officially atheist — e.g., Stalinist Russia. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

Whenever you draw attention to the right’s deranged, irrational hatred of President Obama, you’re likely to hear someone remind you that the Left was rather vitriolic toward George W. Bush. True, but the context couldn’t be more different. Bush got into office by very shady means, and once there he left the nation open to the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil; and he used that attack as justification for a dishonestly supported invasion of a nation that had no involvement in it. Even if you’re a loyal Bushnik and you wholeheartedly support these (and other) actions he and his administration undertook, you must admit — at least if you’re intellectually honest– that “liberal” animosity toward Bush was based on things he actually did.

But if you ask Obama haters why they’re Obama haters, they’re likely to tell you that it’s because he’s a socialist, or he’s a fascist, or he’s a Kenyan, or he’s a muslim, or he’s an atheist, or he’s the Anti-Christ, or he should have given Bush the credit for nabbing bin Laden, or he’s trying to take away your guns, or he wants to outlaw fishing, or he’s let the United Nations take over our national parks, or he’s had the IRS target “conservative” organizations, or Benghazi something or other Benghazi. This is not to suggest that the current president is flawless; it’s just that the attacks against him rarely are rooted in reality. (If you want an honest and sane assessment of his shortcomings, you’d be better off turning to his left-wing critics than his right-wing attackers.)

Sometimes context makes all the difference in the world.

6. Analysis, speculation, and criticism vs. distortion, attribution, attack and eliminationism

Can you spot the difference between these two statements?

1. Conservatives claim to be pro-life, but they often support the death penalty and aggressive warfare that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

2. Liberals are anti-American terrorist sympathizers. It’s time to resort to Second Amendment remedies to stop them.

If you really can’t, I suggest you do some thorough research and reflection before attempting to comment on this matter.

So are left-wingers really just as hateful and batty as right-wingers? Well, technically that’s a question open to debate, as there is no body of comprehensive and objective data on the topic. But there are four things we do know for certain: (1) Apparently there are differences in “liberal” and “conservative” brains. Research indicates that the former are generally better equipped to handle conflict, while the latter are more likely to react with fear. Which might explain why right-wingers are so often caught up in conspiracy theories and paranoid delusion. And gun mania. And which logically would make them more likely to attack The Others. (2) And they do indeed attack The Others. With lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Lots and lots and lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Not just from the fringe, but the mainstream. Not just against specific targets, but against millions of Americans they know nothing about. (3) Despite their best efforts, they’ve been consistently unable to document that the Left does the same thing to anywhere near the same degree. (4) Their attempts to demonstrate this almost invariably hinge on false equivalence.

Obama Speaks Truth, Obama Haters Have Meltdown

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They called it a shameful statement, an embarrassment, an act of self-destruction on the part of President Obama, a defense of terrorism,  and an out-and-out attack on Christianity. They said that he was equating terrorism with Christianity, a “moral equivalency” that was “stupid and dumb” (both??). They called it “moral stupidity” (at least it wasn’t immoral stupidity). They said the president was displaying his own closet Muslim faith, and his hatred of America itself. They even touted it as proof that “liberals” in general (of which they’re immovably convinced Obama is one) love terrorists and hate America. What horrific utterance did the president commit in order to earn this (self) righteous condemnation? It was a little statement he made at the National Prayer Breakfast:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an event sponsored by the ultra-right wing fundamentalist group known by the appropriately godfatherish name The Family. As usual, the president displayed chutzpah in venturing onto hostile turf and offering an olive branch. And as usual, he was eloquent and insightful. In fact, the more rational observers hailed his address as “brilliant”, “remarkable”, and “a powerful celebration of America’s religious tradition.” Naturally, then, the right-wing fanatics went absolutely apeshit, spewing out an avalanche of straw men, dopey insinuations, references to nutty rumors, and downright lies:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share. (Former VA Governor Jim Gilmore)

We all share the values that slavery and slaughter are desirable if done by the right people?

prayer breakfast 1

Guess I missed it. When exactly did he “blame the Crusades”?

prayer breakfast 2

“Nominal Christian”? Cute. Would you say the same about the pope? It was a pope who spearheaded the Crusades. How much more “true” does it need to be?

prayer breakfast 5

Guess I missed it. When exactly did he try to justify horrific acts of barbarism, Islamic or otherwise?  But somebody else missed the fact that he did NOT have to go back 1000 years.

prayer breakfast 6

Guess I missed it. When exactly did he insult Christians? And why would he do that when he is at least a “nominal Christian” himself?

So Barack Obama, leftwing community organizer and closet theologian, used the National Prayer Breakfast to throw a tu quoque at anyone critical of Islam while continuing to fancy himself as the Pope of Islam (Conservative News)

Gotta admit that “tu quoque” is a level of diction several notches above the Palinesque, but unfortunately we can’t say the same for the content.

Mr. President, you… are damning your reputation as a president and may never hold any regard or esteem of the American people. Then again, perhaps that was always your aim, as you fundamentally transform our beloved Constitutional Republic. (Allen West)

The ever-reliable Mr. West, who presumes to give the “Islamapologist In Chief” a history lesson, also claims that lynchings in America were supported by “Democrat (sic) Christians”.

One evil man had the audacity to attack Christianity and defend Islam in the midst of 3,500 Christians at the recent National Prayer Breakfast… Barack Obama and others like him have a direct connection to evil; whereas too often people serving God are not directly connected to truth. This is why Obama can lie and push his destructive agenda and mercilessly attack our freedoms and sacred institutions. (CNS)

This latter, hilariously enough, appears in a piece titled “Christians, It’s Time to  Get Over Your Illusions”.

In the midst of all this sound and fury and manufactured outrage, one little fact was a bit neglected: the president’s observations were absolutely on the mark. Horrific deeds have indeed been committed in the name of Christianity, and just about every other religion that ever has existed. He was right about slavery. He was right about Jim Crow. He was right about the Inquisition. And yes, despite the current tide of trendy historical revisionism, he was even right about the Crusades.

But these episodes are only a sampling of the violence that has been performed in the name of Christianity. We touched upon this in a recent discussion (“The Christian Persecution Complex, and the Myth of the School Prayer Ban”), though it really was just scratching the surface. During the interval of time between Christianity’s coming to power in the Fourth Century, and up to the modern age, there has been an average of one major episode of Christian barbarism every 15 to 20 years. And these are just the major episodes, most of which were massive campaigns that claimed the lives of many victims.

One of these was a campaign by England to “civilize” non-Christians in Ireland by slaughtering tens of thousands of them. One of the commanders of the forces, Humphrey Gilbert, ordered that

the heads of all those (of what sort soever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies… and should be laid on the ground by each side of the way … (to cause) great terror to the people when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk, and friends on the ground.

And if you’re a fan of Fox “News”, you might have been under the impression that ISIS invented beheading.

As for the beloved Crusades, one (Christian) chronicler of the noble exploits recorded that during one particular siege the noble Crusaders

did no other harm to the women found in [the enemy’s] tents—save that they ran their lances through their bellies

How very Christian of them to be such gentlemen. Makes you wonder what kind of harm they’d been doing to other females they’d encountered.

You might object that some of these episodes were not of a particularly religious nature, or that there were sometimes other motives in addition to religious ones. True, but the point is that these horrible deeds were committed by Christians. Or at least nominal Christians. Furthermore Christian beliefs were often cited as the justification for atrocities, even when they actually may have been committed for other reasons. The very fact that dogma can be considered a justification for savagery is itself a damning indictment of a social order dominated by religious fanaticism.

I’ve always been fond of Philip Roth’s short story Defender of the Faith, in which a Jewish army sergeant decides to crack down on one of his fellow Jewish soldiers because he realizes that defending his religion entails defending it not only from the outside but from the inside. That’s a lesson that many Christians don’t want to learn; but President Obama seems to understand perfectly. If you’re a Christian, perhaps you should ask yourself which sentiment you’d rather have expressing your religious values to the world: (a) “I’m appalled by the things some Christians have done, and I pledge to do better'; or (b) “Atrocities? You’re talking about history. You obviously hate Christianity and hate America.”

In writing for Time about the Bizarro Planet reaction to the the president’s speech, Eric Yoffie notes

One would think that both religious and political conservatives would have applauded the President’s remarks, which celebrated American religion and affirmed the centrality of religion in American society.

And he goes on to ask why such “self-evident” truths should be considered the least bit controversial. He chalks it up to Christian “denial”, and that probably is indeed one factor. But the reaction was probably at least as much political as religious. In other words, it was yet another manifestation of Obama Derangement Syndrome, the obsession with trying to make a scandal out of absolutely anything and everything the current president says or does.

It’s certainly not unheard of for presidents to spark controversy when they’re caught telling lies. But Barack Obama very well might be the first politician in history to possess the uncanny power to generate controversy and cause reactionary heads to explode just by telling the self-evident truth.

 

Political Discourse in the Age of Obama

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(From Actual Conversations)

ME

So why do you hate President Obama so much?

THEM

Are you kidding? He’s worse than Hitler. He’s destroyed America.

ME

Then I have to wonder what country we’re living in. How exactly has he done that?

THEM

He’s a dictator, a tyrant, a king, a monarch.

ME

Even assuming that’s true, you surely must realize that Republicans in Congress have opposed him bitterly at every turn – even on things they formerly supported. Wouldn’t you say that rather limits his potential for dictating, tyrannizing, kinging, monarching and Hitlering?

THEM

Well, Obummer bypasses Congress with his dirty tricks. He’s issued all these executive orders, which is absolutely unprecedented.  He should be impeached for that.

ME

Actually, every president issues executive orders. And quite often they’re in defiance of Congress.

THEM

Yeah, well… Ovomit has issued more of them than any other president.

ME

Actually, he’s issued the fewest per year of any president since Grover Cleveland.

THEM

Yeah, well… it’s not just the number, it’s the kind of executive order that matters. I mean, Obeyme has used his office to give amnesty to illegal aliens. Just because he’s a foreigner himself. He ought to be impeached for that.

ME

Actually, many presidents have granted amnesty to undocumented aliens.  Reagan and Bush Sr. did so without Congressional approval. Should we impeach them all retroactively? What makes Obama different, other than his ethnic heritage?

THEM

Now there you go. Why do liberals always have to bring up race?

ME

I seem to recall that a non-liberal introduced the topic of the president’s roots and supposed foreign birth. Whether or not I’m a “liberal” is irrelevant, but race is sometimes very relevant, or at least potentially so. Because sometimes it’s the only reasonable explanation for the way some people behave. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to the obsessive hatred of President Obama.

THEM

Well, I don’t hate him just because he’s a nigger. Makes no difference to me. I hate him because he’s a dictator, a tyrant, a king, a monarch. He’s worse than Hitler. Just look at the whole socialism thing.

ME

What socialism thing is that?

THEM

Come on, he’s a socialist. Everybody knows that.

ME

Socialists themselves don’t know it. They find it quite amusing that some people believe Obama to be one of them.

THEM

Well, what would they know? Rush Limbaugh says he’s a socialist. Just look at Obamacare. It’s socialized medicine. Just like Hitler. He ought to be impeached for it.

ME

What is your definition of socialism?

THEM

Well… I don’t really have one. But Glenn Beck says it’s socialized medicine. And Obarfbag has rammed it down everyone’s throats, even though nobody wants it. Just like Hitler.

ME

It’s true that most Americans will say they oppose “Obamacare”, if you use that word. But if you ask them about what the Affordable Care Act actually does, an overwhelming majority support it. So the president has been placed in the difficult position of giving Americans what they want, even though they’ve been convinced that it’s something they hate and fear.

THEM

Oh yeah? I bet people don’t really want death panels.

ME

Agreed. And exactly what passage in the ACA provides for death panels? Have you actually read it?

THEM

No, but Sarah Palin says it has death panels. And I’m sure she’s read it. She’s very smart.

ME

Moving right along. Is there anything else that prompts you to hate Obama?

THEM

Sure, lots of things.

ME

Such as?

THEM

He lies.

ME

Ah, that might explain the animosity. No other politician has ever lied before. But how significant are his lies? On a scale one to ten, with one being “I did not have sex with that woman” and ten being “WMDs in Iraq” — or reverse the polarity if your values are those of the political and media mainstream — just how damaging have been whatever lies he’s told?

THEM

He’s lied, and he should be impeached for it. Take that global warming crap. It’s worse than Hitler.

ME

So you don’t believe global warming is a problem?

THEM

Hell no. It snowed in Montana last week.

ME

And no doubt it also snowed in Wasila. But other than that, what convinces you that global warming is a hoax? How much professional training and experience have you had in climate science?

THEM

None. But Sean Hannity says global warming is a fraud.

ME

I guess that settles it then.

THEM

You’d realize it too if you weren’t so brainwashed by the liberal media.

ME

Of course. Why do you suppose the president would pursue the effort to combat global warming if it doesn’t exist?

THEM

It’s just one of Hussein’s ways of wrecking the economy.  Just like Hitler. And he needs to be impeached for it.

ME

Actually, the economy has been improving at a pretty steady pace under “Hussein”.  Unemployment is at its lowest since 2008. Gas prices are at their lowest since 2010. Home construction has more than doubled. The deficit has experienced its largest reduction since World War II. Consumer Confidence Index has risen from an all-time low of 37.7 to at least 83. And the rate of growth for corporate profits under him absolutely dwarfs that of any other president – which doesn’t t do much for your “socialism thing”.

THEM

You really like to throw statistics around, don’t you?

ME

Sorry, I guess that’s not playing fair.

THEM

You don’t really believe he had anything to do with any of that, do you?

ME

So he has total power to destroy the economy, but no power at all to improve it?

THEM

Well, I suppose he could improve it if he wanted to. But he wants to make Americans suffer.

ME

Why?

THEM

That’s just what liberals do. They’re worse than Hitler.

ME

There’s a limit to how far you can go in blaming “liberals” for your problems. We could debate how much influence any president has on the economy. But what’s beyond question is that the economy has improved while Obama’s been in office. And since that also happens under just about every other Democratic president, it’s probably not just coincidence.

THEM

Well, the economy may have improved a little bit, but it’s still really crappy.

ME

If so, it indicates what terrible shape it was in when Obama came along. His predecessor demolished the economy along with many other things. If you’re looking for someone to accuse of trying to “destroy” America, maybe Bush would be a better place to start.

THEM

Well, you have your opinion and I have mine.

ME

Unquestionably. But this is not a matter of opinion. If you’re interested, I can provide plenty of solid facts and figures that add up to a blistering indictment of the Bush administration.

THEM

Why do you hate America so much?

The Real Lesson of the Midterms?

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After any election, the party that loses the most and the party that wins the most immediately start trying to spin the outcome to their best advantage. And it was no different this year.

While their losses weren’t nearly as massive as the media narrative would have you believe, Democratic spin has tended to exhibit a great deal of wishful thinking, even as it incorporates some valid observations.  They point out that the party in The White House always loses congressional seats during a midterm. That’s generally true, but the party does not always lose control of Congress.

They say that now Republicans will actually have to try to lead rather than throw spitballs, and their ineptitude will be exposed. Maybe so, but we’ve been down this road before; 20 years ago, the GOP enjoyed a considerably more dramatic sweep under Clinton. They used their new majority to indulge in petty persecution of the president, including impeaching him for lying about his sex life. If there was political fallout for their actions, the lessons were quickly forgotten.

Now there is another Republican majority in Congress that promises to indulge in more imaginatively silly wastes of time and money in childish pursuit of a venomous vendetta against President Obama. It’s almost certain that they’ll move to impeach him for… well, something. Or nothing. It really doesn’t seem to matter to them whether or not they have a reason. The word impeach no longer means “to investigate an official for misconduct”; it now means, “to use political clout to try to undo an election you didn’t like.”

Democrats also take comfort in the fact that while their candidates may have lost, their issues won; indeed, most of the Republicans who won were able to do so only because they disguised themselves as Democrats. And there’s a great deal of truth to that.  Republicans often win by assuming “liberal” stances on the stump. But that isn’t necessarily an indicator of how they’ll behave once they’re in office.

As for the notion that the public supports progressive values much more strongly than it supports “liberal” politicians, true enough. Progressive values usually win in most places, even if progressive (or the least non-progressive) candidates don’t. The history of the human race has shown a pretty steady march forward, even if the leaders in charge have taken two steps forward and one step back — or vice versa.

Electing a Republican isn’t necessarily a step backward, and electing a Democrat isn’t necessarily a step forward. But when you compare the two parties overall, you see that Republicans are far more likely to impede progress. They are far more likely (to name just one example) to subjugate scientific research to ideology. Accordingly, it appears that certain key posts relating to the environment are about to be filled by arrogantly ignorant climate science “skeptics” like James Inhofe and Ted Cruz.

The Republican spin, which has become the official spin, is that this election was a referendum on President Obama and/or his policies. Even Obama himself seems to believe that. Thus, Fox “News” and company would have you believe that the results were a huge slap in the face to the president. The election, they maintain, is a mandate to engage in further obstruction and extremism. Indeed, when President Obama suggested that he could work with the new Congress (a suggestion also made by Mitch McConnell despite his history of gridlock), he was met with derision and scorn by the punditocracy.

Thing is, Obama’s approval rating (around 40 percent) is considerably higher than that of Congress itself (around 20 percent). But wait. Maybe people just disapprove of Congress so strongly because it’s too librul, and things will change now that there are going to be more Republicans, and they’re going to be the head of both houses. Well, the problem there is that going into the election, Democrats in Congress had a higher approval (44 percent) than Republicans (40 percent) in some polls. In other words, the public elected the party it dislikes most to run the branch of government it’s most disgusted with. Kind of makes sense if you stare it cross-eyed long enough.

The logical conclusion here is that Republicans won because Democratic voters stayed at home. And this might be due in part to the same factor that Republican voters were so fired up: the propaganda campaign against President Obama. Right-wing fanatics, aided and abetted by the media, have convinced a large portion of the American public that a B-plus president is actually an FFF-minus-minus president. Consequently, Democratic candidates behaved as if he had leprosy, distancing themsleves from his achievements — which very well could be why their constituents were uninspired to show up at the polls.

The absurdity of the whole thing was succinctly highlighted by David Letterman:

Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.

Polls indicate that some 63 percent of the American public believes that the country is headed in the wrong direction, while only 27 percent say it’s headed in the right direction. What would it take for people to think it’s moving in the right direction? Who knows? Few people seem interested in answering that question. They just know they’re supposed to hate Obama because they’ve been told to.

They rail about how he’s an embarrassment in foreign policy and he’s trashing the economy and “Obamacare” is an utter disaster. Even in the face of reports showing that unemployment has dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2008, and millions have healthcare for the first time, and America’s image abroad has improved considerably since Obama took office. Hey, who needs facts when you have Fox?

Which leads us to what may be the real lesson of the midterms: perhaps Americans are currently living in a brainwashed dystopian dictatorship. But the dictator isn’t Barack Obama or anyone in Congress. It’s Rupert Murdoch et al.

 

So NOW Election Fraud Is Considered Newsworthy!

Fox Voter Fraud

There are three things as certain as death and taxes during an election season these days :(1) gas prices will fall at the pump; (2) the airwaves will be saturated with attack ads, and (3) the media will devote lots of time to airing warnings by Republicans that Democrats are out to “steal” the election. And they don’t mind making up stories to support their case.

Normally, their claim is that such theft will be carried out by voters themselves — which, as we’ve discussed before, is extremely difficult to pull off, and too infrequent to have an impact on an election. (Not to mention which, many if not most of the documented occurrences actually involve high-profile Republicans.) In 2012, for instance, they floated rumors about busloads of dark-skinned immigrants with limited English skills being driven to the polls to vote — clearly fraud, right? At least one report even characterized them as “Somali pirates”.

In keeping with the philosophy that no steamroller is too large to attack a gnat with if the political gain is sufficient, Republicans have responded to this virtually nonexistent problem by introducing drastic measures in the form of voter ID laws which have a hugely disproportionate effect on low-income, dark-skinned and foreign-looking citizens — who, by some strange coincidence, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. These laws are to a large extent the spawn of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing activist group founded by Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation. In a rare moment of candor, Weyrich reveals the true purpose of such legislation:

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Or as Michigan state legislator John Pappageorge said in 2004, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” (Detroit is the home of a large number of dark-skinned, foreign-looking Democratic voters.)

You can count on the media, and especially Fox “News” to shine a bright spotlight on every single case in which a Democratic voter is suspected of voting fraudulently. But the mysterious disappearance this year of more than 40,000 ballots from a Democratic stronghold in Georgia that could tilt that state’s elections? Not so much so. In seems that in order for suspected fraud to be considered newsworthy, it must meet two conditions: (a) it must be on an insignificant scale, and (b) it must be to the benefit of the Democratic Party.

Thus, we have a great deal of attention devoted this year to a suspected case of actual election (as opposed to voter) fraud. It seems that a few machines in Illinois have been reportedly switching a few votes from Republican to Democrat. Officially, it’s just a glitch, but Fox “News” and their ilk are all over it, brandishing it as undeniable proof that Democrats have “hacked” the machines and are out to sabotage the electoral process and finish converting the nation to a colony of drones who’ll surrender their guns, convert to Islam and keep their radios tuned to NPR.

The deliciously rich irony here is that Democratic and progressive activists have been struggling for years to bring greater accuracy, transparency and accountability to the electoral process. And they have very good reason. For one thing, voting machine glitches of this type have occurred before — except that the machines were flipping votes from Democrat to Republican. During the 2012 election, for instance, there were reports  of machines in Pennsylvania switching votes. What say you, Fox? Same thing happened in Texas in 2006. Tucker? Sean? Bill?  In Florida in 2000, voting machines in Volusia County awarded George W. Bush 4000 superfluous votes, while subtracting 19,000 from Al Gore’s tally. Rather than expose and investigate the irregularity, the media promptly seized upon the inaccurate totals to prematurely project Bush the winner (the first to do so was Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, who worked for — surprise — Fox “News”), permanently casting Gore as a “sore loser” and making it all but impossible for him to obtain a fair recount.

Fox didn’t exactly jump all over those cases of fishy election activity. Could it be because the machines were switching votes from Democrat to Republican.? The vast majority of voting machines are produced by companies with strong ties to the GOP, and in some cases their execs have made it clear that they will do whatever it takes to deliver elections to the candidates of their choice. Still waiting for the Fox exclusive on that one?

Nor are machines the only problem, by any means. As we discussed in the examination of Bush vs. Gore, Republicans have employed a mile-long series of dirty tricks to get into power and stay there. And these, mind you, are not merely isolated actions by individuals, but a widespread systematic process. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush was boosted into the White House by his governor brother’s unlawful purge of tens of thousand of Democratic voters from the rolls. The GOP’s tactics also include some very heavy-handed gerrymandering, which has allowed the party to gain congressional seats in the past two elections even though Democrats received more votes. In at least three states (Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin) GOP-mandering has been ruled unconstitutional. But like The Terminator, they’re no sooner struck down than they get back up and start it all over again. Fox, where art thou?

Okay, since conspiracy theories are so popular these days, here are a couple to try on: (1) Maybe right-wingers are raising such a stink about the Democratic “fraud” in Illinois to divert focus away from their own sins — maybe they even hacked the voting machines themselves. (2) Or maybe Democrats really did fix the machines. Maybe they did it because they knew that was the only way to draw the media spotlight on the potential problems with voting machines, which thereby might lead to tighter regulation of said machines that would make it harder for anyone to cheat.

Stranger things have happened. And infinitely stranger things have been believed.

Obama’s Pronouns Vs. the Flat Earth Mentality

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-HISPANIC CAUCUS

Only a few days after posting yet another examination of Obama Derangement Syndrome, I came across a piece about the Obama Haters’ recent obsession with the president’s use of pronouns.  The claim, you see, is that he says “I” or “me” with inordinate frequency, which proves that he’s an arrogant narcissist.  The pronoun narrative reached its nadir, perhaps, with right-wing pundit Charles Krauthammer, who declared

For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon… I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president.

Well, unfortunately for Krauthammer and his kind, somebody did just that.  The folks at BuzzFeed studied more than 2000 news conferences delivered by all the presidents since 1929, when mass media began coming into its own. And they counted the number of times the presidents used personal pronouns like “I”, “me” and “mine”, calculated their percentages among all words used, and compiled them into a handy chart.

Obama pronouns

And those results do not speak well for Obama Haters, Inc. Far from having the highest frequency of such pronouns, Obama has to date the third lowest. Furthermore, he also has the highest usage of plural first-person pronouns like “we” or “our”, suggesting that he actually may be the most inclusive of modern presidents.

That being said, a glance down this chart indicates that we should exercise caution in assuming that the incidence of such words is always a reliable indicator of narcissism/ arrogance/ self-indulgence. Jimmy Carter is at the upper end of the scale, and he is a manifestly unselfish man who has devoted his post-presidency time to nonpolitical public service. Herbert Hoover is at the very bottom, and yet he was a relentless and unscrupulous megalomaniac who scarcely was capable of doing anything that didn’t advance his ambitions or status. Ronald Reagan also ranks rather low, and yet he had delusions of grandeur that bordered on schizophrenia.

Nonetheless, it’s possible that the haters are, despite their best efforts, on the right track about Obama. His low level of personal pronouns does seem to coordinate with his humility, as reflected in his extraordinary efforts to work with an extraordinarily obstructionist Congress, and his amazing grace and good will in the face of an unbelievable amount of hatred thrown his way.

Whatever the implications, the most obvious problem with the haters’ pronoun narrative is simply that they got their facts wrong. Not just mildly wrong, but wildly wrong. And they did so by indulging in that very egocentrism of which they accuse the president. Having heard him say “I” a few times, they concluded, without bothering to investigate, that he does so with great frequency.

It’s a folly that has plagued the human race from day one: the presumption that the view from one’s own narrow window reflects what the universe as a whole looks like. And it has resulted in a great many irrational beliefs and behaviors, from the hilarious to the horrific. The belief that the world must be flat because I can’t see it curve. The belief that the earth must be the center of the universe because I see the sun move around it. The belief that the old woman down the road must be a witch because my dog got sick after she petted it. The belief that global warming must be a myth because it snowed in my back yard last week. And now, the belief that the president must be a Kenyan communist Nazi Muslim Anti-Christ because Fox “News” says so.

And it’s a folly that likely will continue to  plague the human race in the future. Let’s just hope that its consequences are more hilarious than horrific.

The 35th Worst President Ever?

Obama coffee cup

In case you missed it,  there was a brilliant little political essay  by the brilliant little political essayist Mark Morford at SFGate on July 8 called “The Best Worst President Ever”, eviscerating the oft-heard lament that Barack Obama is “the worst thing that ever happened to this country”, or some such. The Cult Of Obama Hatred is working overtime to drill its mantra into the head of the American citizen: “worst president ever, worst president ever, worst president ever”. Like a broken record, or a record-breakingly inept Republican president wedging “Iraq” and “9-11″  together into the same sentence as frequently as possible, they hope that if they say it long enough and often enough, people will believe it. And it appears to be working, at least for now.

Not long ago, an RRR (rabidly right-wing relative — don’t they make family gatherings fun?) said to me, “Obama has just split this country apart. He’s caused the races to hate each other more when they were beginning to get along, and he’s made the whole nation more divided than it’s ever been before”. Naturally, I was intrigued by this analysis, and I asked him to explain exactly how the president accomplished this. Needless to say, he was unable to name even one thing Obama has done to cause such unprecedented divisiveness. He just knows that somehow, the president has set Americans against each other more than anyone else has ever done, including, say, Jefferson Davis.

I suggested to my RRR that maybe he should consider the possibility that if indeed the nation is more divided than it’s ever been (which is by no means a given) then in fact it has not been Obama but Obama haters who have contributed to it. After all, they’ve churned out the most malicious lies imaginable about the president on a daily basis for the past 6 years, and lies tend to be quite divisive. To which he replied, “Well, you have your opinion, and I have mine.”

This is what we’ve come to in Twenty-First Century America. The difference between lies and truth is dismissed as nothing more than a difference of opinion. And the prevailing opinion is that Obama has “destroyed this country” and “shredded the Constitution” and “mortgaged our children’s future”, or he’s — (insert the popular cookie cutter phrase of your choice). facts and explanations be damned.

Some polls have the president’s popularity at an all-time low. Or as Fox “News” puts it in inimitable Fox fashion, “more people than ever are fed up” with him. In one poll, a plurality (33 percent) of Americans consider Obama the worst president since at least World War II — even topping out George W (28 percent).  Which just goes to show how effective the anti-Obama propaganda has been, and in particular how effective is the technique of sheer repetition. Because reality tells rather a different story.

Determining the best and worst among presidents is necessarily a subjective undertaking to some extent — particularly among members of the contemporary general public, who tend to assess a leader according to how well he conforms to their own ideologies. And since Obama caters to neither the Right or the Left, he’d be getting a double dose of criticism even if he wasn’t the intensive target of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Even Michael Moore declares that he will be remembered only as the first black president. Et tu, Mike?

But future generations won’t care much about present ideological differences, or how the current crop of right-wing radicals detested the current president past all rationality, or how contemporary “liberals” are disappointed that he’s not progressive enough. With a broader perspective, such as that provided by history or even contemporary historians, there are definite objective parameters. It would be hard to call an Abe Lincoln or George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt a bad president, or an Andrew Johnson or Warren Harding or George W. Bush a good one (though some people may try).

A president’s place in history is determined, with pretty decent accuracy, by his cumulative actions in office; and again, there are definite objective parameters. It would be pretty hard to fault, for instance, the Emancipation Proclamation or Social Security or The Peace Corps (though some people certainly try). And it would be pretty hard to praise the intelligence and security failures that allowed 9-11 to happen, or the launching of the Iraqi quagmire based on lies and fraud, or converting a huge surplus into a huge deficit, or shattering Ronald Reagan’s record for presidential vacation time, or muzzling scientific research and playing denial on climate change (though some people certainly try).

And it’s hard to find fault with the retirement of Osama bin Laden; but the Obama haters certainly try — while at the same time trying to credit it to George W. Bush, who’d been out of office more than two years and had long ago given up even looking for bin Laden. But that’s by no means the only one of the current president’s impressive accomplishments.

Among them, of course, is the Affordable Care Act, forever to be spun as “Obamacare”. Surely you’ve heard of it. Socialized medicine. Government takeover of medicine. Nazi medicine. Death panels. Skyrocketing premiums. Doctors jumping ship. Thousands of armed IRS agents ready to enforce it. A dismal catastrophe all around, right? That’s certainly the way it’s being portrayed. And a gullible public gobbles it up.

Yet when you dig beneath the cacophonous layer of Bedlamite frenzy and press the issue, most Americans will quietly if grudgingly admit that “Obamacare” is… (wait for it) actually a success. Most have even seen this for themselves. Yes, even Republicans. Shhhh!!! Don’t tell anyone.

And what about the economy?  That’s certainly an important factor to consider. And the official spin is that Obama’s economic policies have been ineffective if not disastrous. Many Obama haters cite their own change in economic status as “proof”, on the assumption that (a) their own experience typifies the nation’s as a whole — after all, the universe does revolve around them, doesn’t it?, and (b) it’s all Obama’s fault — if and only if they’ve become worse off in the past few years.

Right-wingers have an immutable four-part formula they apply to a president’s impact on the economy: (a) If the president is a Democrat and the economy goes bad, the president is to blame. Period. (b) If the president is a Democrat and the economy improves, it’s due to the Republicans in Congress or the last Republican president, however long ago. (c) If the president is a Republican and the economy improves, it’s all his doing. Period. (d) If the president is a Republican and the economy goes bad, it’s due to the Democrats in Congress or the last Democratic president, however long ago.

Historians and economists, however, are not blessed with such divine insight, and so they have to rely on hard numbers instead. Those numbers almost invariably show that economic improvement coincidentally has a way of occurring when a Democrat is in the White House. And the present president is no exception.

The guys at Motley Fool have compiled tables of how the presidents since 1900 compare in five economic factors. Of 19 administrations, Obama’s ranks fourth in stock market performance, seventh in reducing unemployment, eighth in GDP per capita, and — get this — FIRST in corporate profit growth. The latter isn’t even close: at an annual growth rate of 43.1 percent, Obama’s figure smokes the next closest competitor at 17.7 percent. This, mind you, is a president whom the wingers love to brand a “socialist”. So lopsided is the president’s boon to corporate interests that the Fools suggest, with a perfectly straight face, that maybe he should play fair and bring the percentage down to a more competitive 6.2 by factoring in the final year of the economically disastrous Bush administration. You think I’m making this up?

Okay, so President Obama has plenty of positive things going for him. What about the possibility that there is enough in the minus column to wipe out his assets? Well, it’s really not a realistic possibility at all. Certainly, he’s only human, and he’s exhibited his share of missteps and flaws like any other politician. (And ironically, they tend to be overlooked by the Obama Haters in their rush to circulate nutball rumors.) But contrary to loud and pervasive rumor, there is nothing that promises to make a dent in the history books.

Which certainly hasn’t prevented the haters from trying desperately, comically, to find something. From Benghazi to birtherism to Benghazi to the IRS to Benghazi to the NSA to Benghazi to Fast and Furious to Benghazi to Solyndra to Benghazi. And oh yes, there’s always Benghazi. Failing to gain much traction with these “scandals” they grasp at straws that are excruciatingly silly even by their usual standards.

There is, for example, the “latte salute”. The president’s casual act of saluting two marines while holding a cup of coffee as he exited Air Force One was turned into a tsunami-sized controversy by the hatred industry. The puerile hyperbole over this non-event is perhaps best encapsulated by Karl Rove on Fox “News”:

Are we surprised? After all, we’ve got a chai-swilling, golf-playing, basketball-trash-talking, leading-from-behind, I-got-no-strategy, ‘Osama-bin-Laden-is-dead-GM-is-alive’, community organizer commander-in-chief… It’s not a latte salute, it’s a chai salute because he drinks chai tea. I mean, please! How disrespectful was that?

This thoughtful and mature analysis brought to you by a man who, in many respects, ran the country for 8 years, and is often referred to as “Bush’s Brain”. Hey, let’s all try being as adult and sophisticated as Karl. Hmmm… If he was Bush’s brain, which end would that make Dick Cheney? The reference to “no strategy”, by the way, is a comment taken out of context (a national pastime for Obama haters) and seized upon to advance the myth that the president is weak/ disastrous/ embarrassing in foreign policy. In raising such a hue and cry over the disgraceful latte/ chai salute (Which is it? Makes all the difference in the world, you know.) Fox “News” completely gets its facts wrong  (Fox?? Say it ain’t so!) about the history and protocol of presidential salutes, and asks “Would President Bush ever do this?” The answer to that, it appears, is probably not.

Bush dog salute

Bush salutes several times with a dog, and he’s a patriotic, strong-willed, resolute commander-in-chief. Obama salutes once with a cup of coffee (Or is it tea?  Inquiring minds want to know.) and he’s an embarrassment, a joke, a traitor in league with ISIS who wants to infect you with ebola. But in the interest of being “fair and balanced”, surely Fox soon will launch into a protracted analysis of how Bush’s saluting posture was cowering, wimpy, and quasi-fetal as he clung to the most popular member of his administration, while Obama’s saluting posture is erect, bold, proud and decisive. I’m sure they will. Any day now. Doncha think?

Basically, anything that any other politician could do without raising a Hannity eyebrow becomes a major, major scandal/ outrage/ source of ridicule if Obama does it. Is there anything more worthy of a Lemony Snicket novel than Sarah Palin, that persistent answer to a question nobody is asking, mocking the president for using a teleprompter with a canned one-liner read from a teleprompter?  Considering that nearly all of the media coverage of President Obama is negative, and a great deal of it is deranged and apocalyptic, is it really any wonder that his ratings are so low?

Meanwhile, what gets far less media attention is that a group of 238 presidential scholars has done a periodic ranking of U.S. presidents that placed Obama 15th. That’s 15th BEST, boys and girls, not 15th worst. This, mind you, was after his first year in office and thus before most of his accomplishments. Other surveys of the experts have also rather consistently ranked him highly — as highly as 8th. And highly ranked presidents tend to rise in their rankings after they are out of office.

So, sorry to break the news to you, Obama haters, but posterity promises to be far kinder to Barack Obama than to you. Or to your warped image of him. If you wanted to peg him as, say the 35th worst president ever, then you might have a case. But the worst? Not unless things change very, very drastically. And very, very soon.