What Would We Do Without Hitler?

Goebbels with his boss

For most of his post-mortality existence, Adolf Hitler has been the man that most people wish never had existed at all. But in recent days he has proven to be not only quite useful but indispensable in public discourse, particularly on political matters. Want to express dislike for some political figure? Compare him to Hitler. Want to express distrust of some organization or group? Call them Nazis. Want to express dissatisfaction, outrage or concern over some policy or practice? Peg it as fascism. What started out as a novel rhetorical device to exaggerate the worst of qualities turned into standard practice and now has become an extremely overused smear tactic – and it’s almost never meant as hyperbole anymore.

The Hitler hysteria was cranked up a notch or two during the Bush years. It was not uncommon for people to liken George W. to Adolf, and even to say “the difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected.” This was an exaggeration, but at least it had some degree of  ideological basis: the Nazi party represented the ultimate (so far) in right-wing extremism, and Bush was certainly a right-wing extremist.

But the Hitlering that occurred then was nothing compared to the Hitlering that’s been going on since Obama has been in office. And this is  more than an exaggeration; it’s cluelessly misdirected. Barack Obama is a bit on the conservative side at times, but he’s far from being a right-wing extremist, and nowhere in the same galaxy as the Nazis – who were, lest we forget, white supremacists.  Which of course won’t prevent the Tea Partiers from continuing to put the trademark mustache on his portrait even as they denounce him as a black supremacist and a socialist/ communist.

(Brief history lesson: The Nazis and communists fought on opposite sides, and Hitler hated communists.  And the Nazis did not come to dominate their country by enacting legislation, and certainly not by enacting health care reform. They did it by stirring up hatred, by convincing certain citizens that certain other citizens are the enemy, that THEY are evil and must be eliminated, THEY have caused all our problems, THEY have stolen our country and WE must take it back. Sound familiar?)

And yet the right-wingers all but wet themselves when someone on the other side of the aisle invokes the specter of Nazism, even faintly. Just recently,  Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) sparked outrage by saying in  comments about the smears against health care reform, “”They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie, just like Goebbels.You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it.” You’ll note that he didn’t call anyone Hitler, or a Nazi or fascist. He merely pointed out, quite accurately as it turns out, that the big lie propagated about the HCR bill follows the tactic advocated by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist.

But it had Republicanoids calling for his head.  Over at fair and balanced Fox, fair and balanced Megyn Kelly indignantly  insisted that her network was never guilty of such a thing. Which really makes you wonder: does anyone at Fox EVER watch its own programming? Nazi references at Fox are as thick as corpses at Auschwitz.

Take Glenn Beck. Please. During just his first 18 months at Fox, his program invoked the Third Reich no fewer than 642 times.  He slapped the N-word on “liberals” and on the president, and on anyone who supported anything the president supported, for any offense ranging from wanting to tax the rich to being left-handed. (Just kidding about the latter. I think.) And while he’s the most advanced of Fox’s infections, he’s by no means the only one.  Virtually all of them indulge in Hitlerism, and virtually any of them is shocked, shocked, when anyone on the other side does.

Take the Arizona immigration law. Please. Concocted for the alleged purpose of “protecting our borders” from illegal immigrants and buttressed by false claims that an influx of brown-skinned folk has sparked higher crime, it was pushed through by state Senator Russell Pearce, who has a long history of promoting white supremacy, and on at least one occasion made a public appearance with – and actually hugged – a leading official of the Neo-Nazi Party. (Just to be clear: those aren’t people that someone else has called Nazis. They’re people who call THEMSELVES Nazis.) Although he claims to be the author of the bill, Pearce was assisted (probably quite heavily, given his lack of facility with the English language. Hmmm… could he be an illegal himself?) by an organization called Federation for American Immigration Reform (Yes, that’s FAIR for short), which was founded by an unabashed white supremacist and funded by the Pioneer Fund, which has a history of supporting “eugenics movement” research that attempts to prove the superiority of Caucasians.  Coincidentally, Arizona also has prohibited schools from teaching ethnic studies or courses that advocate the “overthrow” of the American government – which apparently is the same thing. (Or does that mean Tea Partiers? I’m confused) And it has barred teachers with “heavy” accents. But of course, there’s no racist intent behind any of this, and how dare you suggest such a thing, you  bleeding heart librul.

Still, the bill does require (not allow, require) police to question anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant – i.e., anyone with dark skin. (When asked by a reporter what an illegal immigrant looks like, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer responded, “I do not know. I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like.  I can tell you that there are people in Arizona who assume they know what an illegal immigrant looks like.” Oh. Well, just as long as somebody assumes something.) So inevitably, someone would suggest that rounding up people because of their ethnicity is a bit, um. like what the Third Reich did.  Upon which suggestion the Beckster went ballistic, asking “Are you out of your minds?”   And then he went right back to his usual business of explaining how Obama’s plan to extend health care to all Americans is exactly the kind of thing Hitler did.

Perhaps the most side-splitting example of Beckian Hitlerism occurred when President Obama, in filling a Supreme Court vacancy, expressed the desire to appoint a justice with “empathy”. Despite the fact that many right-wingers have also praised that quality in a justice, Beck pounced upon it as a vile emblem of librulism, and pointed out that empathy leads to “bad decisions”, and it even fueled Hitler’s rise to power. Yep, there’s nothing like a gas chamber to demonstrate a little empathy.

Wherever Joseph Goebbels and the Der Fuhrer are right now, they must be taking fiendish delight in the enormous, invaluable contribution they have made to contemporary nutball propaganda.

The Media Role in Bush vs. Gore, Part 4: The Cleanup

So the Supreme Court delivered its suspenseful ruling, which in fact was really no surprise to anyone. And George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President. God was in his heaven, and all was right with the world.

Except that a lot of people still wondered who really would have won in Florida if the Supreme Court hadn’t come riding over the hill just in the nick of time. So, with the supposed objective of setting the matter straight, a consortium of eight news organizations sponsored a painstaking review of the ballots that were rejected. (At least all they had available. Thousands of them, mostly from heavily Democratic precincts, were mysteriously MIA.) Conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center and closely monitored by representatives of both political camps, the review tallied the likely outcomes under several different counting standards.

On Nov. 12, 2001 – a full year after the election – the consortium released its findings. And what did it conclude? Well, what follows is a representative sampling of newspaper headlines:

“Florida Results: Ballot Review Shows Bush Retaining Lead” blared The Miami Herald. “An Analysis of Florida Balloting Favors Bush”, offered the “ultra-liberal” New York Times. “Bush Really Won”, declared the New York Daily News. “Recounts in Miami-Dade Finds Bush a Fair Winner”, proclaimed the “ultra-liberal” Los Angeles Times. “Florida Vote Review Confirms Bush Won; Recount Would Have Left Gore Short”, exulted The Houston Chronicle. “Yet Another Recount Says Bush Won”, gloated the Tampa Tribune. “Newspapers’ Review Shows Bush Still Winner”, boasted The Arizona Republic. “Bush Still Would Have Won After a Recount in Florida”, announced the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. “Undervote Review Says Bush Won”, piped the Dayton Daily News.

Wow. Pretty unequivocal, huh? Surely nobody still could harbor doubts about Dubya’s triumph after reading headlines like those.

Ah, but there’s always the troubling fine print. And in this case, it was very troubling indeed. Anyone who bothered to read past the headlines and get the full story – which usually was buried somewhere in the back of the paper – found a very different conclusion. It turns out that Bush’s “victory” would have been attained only under a few partial-count standards, which the headlines all focused on. But under any counting scenario involving a statewide recount, GORE WOULD HAVE WON. Let’s repeat that: under any scenario involving a STATEWIDE RECOUNT, Gore would have won. Once more: Under ANY SCENARIO involving a statewide recount, Gore would have won. Yet the media consistently, almost universally, spun this into an incontestable victory for Bush.

Perhaps the eeriest example was The Washington Post, which touted a front-page headline proclaiming “Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush”. But buried on page 10 was a box listing the consortium’s actual tabulations under the heading “Full Review Favors Gore”. Such schizoid self-contradiction was by no means unique; it was the media norm. But what makes the Post’s account even eerier is that it was accompanied by media critic Howard Kurtz’s gloating editorial (“George W. Bush, Now More than Ever”) in which he haughtily dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” those who pointed out such inconsistencies, and noted that they were “convinced that the media were covering up the Florida election results to protect President Bush” – which is precisely what his own paper was doing right under his nose – and insisted that such kooky notions had been “put to rest” by the consortium review.

So why did the media, after paying for and going to a great deal of effort to obtain, a closer look at the spoiled ballots, so consistently bury what they uncovered? After all, we’re all well aware of American media’s overwhelming “liberal bias”. (Wink for us, Sarah.)

One explanation offered was that due to the recent terrorist attack, people were hesitant to say anything that might undermine national unity. It was more patriotic, some believed, to blindly follow a national leader in time of crisis, even if illegitimate and incompetent, than to expose and correct flaws in the democratic process. But perhaps a more accurate explanation was that they simply didn’t want to rock the boat – heaven forbid that the media ever be guilty of such a thing. Apparently expecting to verify a Bush victory when they undertook the whole undertaking, they stuck with that story later, facts be damned.

In a statement expressing strong dissent to the majority Supreme Court ruling in Bush vs. Gore, Justice Stevens wrote, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” He might have added the same for the Nation’s confidence in the media to cover events and issues fairly. Its slanted reporting of the consortium review may have been the final nail in the coffin of American mainstream media. At least, there certainly has been no indication of miraculous resurrection since then.

So what lessons are we to derive from how the media behaved in covering the campaign, the election, the lawsuit and the review? Here are the major gleanings:
1.People read and remember headlines. Not stories.
2. Go on the attack early, and stay on the attack.
3. Find an unsavory label for your opponent, and keep hammering away at it. It doesn’t have to be an honest label.
4. We live in a visual world. People remember and accept what they see more readily than what they hear.
5. People will believe anything they hear if it’s repeated often enough.

And then there’s the most important lesson of all, though it’s not necessarily connected directly to propaganda: the best way to get ahead in the world is to have good connections.

But chances are you already had that one figured out a long time ago.

So Why Are They Blaming the Nice Little Tea Party for Those Nasty Shootings?

Hardly had the cyber-ink dried (or whatever cyber-ink does) on the last post, touching upon the patriotic posturing of today’s right-wing zealots, when the news broke of the Tuscon tragedy and its repercussions. Whenever such an episode of gun violence occurs, there are at least two responses that are very predictable. First, the NRA and its cohorts will rush to the defense of whatever weapon was used, insisting that “guns don’t kill, people do” (apparently believing that all those bullets were fired by bare hands) – even though, thanks to their tireless efforts to make firearms easily available, the line between gun and gunman has become hopelessly blurred. And second, the media will try to fit the incident into some kind of pattern, some kind of narrative.

The big question that has been thrown around over and over again is this: were the assassin’s actions in some way attributable to the poisonous polemics that have become the norm in the American public forum?  Right-wingers, naturally, were quick to answer in the negative, and bolstered their case by pointing out that in addition to being fond of such right-wing reading matter as “Mein Kampf”, the gunman was also known to read Marx. So obviously he’s a librul, huh?

In fact, he doesn’t appear to have been particularly motivated by ideology at all. He was obviously quite disturbed, and theoretically the violence could have happened to anyone at any time, anywhere. But is it really just chance that the victims were a Democratic congresswoman and her supporters?  Or has right-wing invective been ratcheted up to the point that non-right-wingers are bound to be the target of violence? Considering that the gunman was so disturbed, isn’t it likely that he was susceptible to suggestion? And if he was exposed to media rhetoric at all (which is all but certain), isn’t it probable that he was exposed quite a bit to Fox “News” and other purveyors of the constant message that “liberals” are evil beings who must be exterminated?  So what’s so far-fetched about the suggestion that Palinesque polemic egged him on?

In just the first 3 months of 2010, there were 42 security threats against members of Congress. All were Democrats. Just coincidence? And the wording of the threats often echoed Tea Party talking points. Just coincidence? Gabrielle Giffords herself had previously been the object of many such threats. Still coincidence? The election of a black Democratic president has sparked such a spike in threats of violence that the Secret Service is too swamped to deal with them all. Mere coincidence? During the first few months of 2010, death threats against members of Congress rose by 300 %. Also coincidence?

The real question then is not whether hateful rhetoric actually did prompt the killings, but whether it might have; in other words, whether it might do so in the future. And we already know the answer to that question. There have been at least three attempted violent attacks on “liberal” figures that were directly inspired by the frenzied, deliberately misinformed rants of Glenn Beck alone. The murderer of  Dr. Tiller in Kansas apparently was inspired by Bill O’Reilly’s demonization of the victim as a “baby killer”.  A gunman who opened fire in a Tennessee church stated that he wanted to kill all 100 people singled out in a book by Bernard Goldberg, another talking headless at Fox. A Pittsburgh man who murdered three policemen was motivated by the fear that the government was going to take away his guns – a paranoid fantasy frequently peddled by Fox, which he watched regularly. And lest we forget, Timothy McVeigh was a right-wing radical who spouted the same “anti-government” (i.e., anti-Democratic) worldview as these media figures.

Nasty bickering over ideological differences is certainly nothing new. But today’s Republicanoid rhetoric has gone way, way WAY beyond incivility, beyond ridicule, beyond anger, even beyond hatred. It now operates in the realm of what is known as “eliminationism” – i.e., the attitude that those who disagree with you are very real threats to life and liberty who must be removed by any means necessary.

But that’s only half the equation. The other half is that this political faction is closely linked with a creepy subculture that glorifies, even idolizes, guns. Combine those two elements and you’re bound to have an explosion eventually. Is it really so far-fetched to think that even the shooter in Tuscon might have been to some degree influenced by this toxic brew?

Inevitably attached to the media discussion about nasty polemics is the knee-jerk defense that “both sides do it”. It just ain’t so, not by a long shot. Oh sure, you’ll occasionally find a left-winger who spews hatred, or who threatens or even commits violence. But with right-wingers it’s not just an occasional thing. It’s deliberate standard operating procedure, 24/7, day after day after day after day. And there’s nothing the least bit subtle about it. Keith Olbermann, who’s generally regarded as the most strident pundit on the left, actually apologized for something he’d said that might be taken to be hateful. The day Beck or  Limbaugh or Coulter or O’Reilly or Hannity or Malkin does that, better take cover to avoid being smothered by the droppings from all the flying pigs. In a truly bizarre twist of irony, one of the Arizona shooting victims who vented his rage against a Tea Party official by making a threat similar to what Tea Partiers make with impunity on a routine basis, was arrested and submitted to psychiatric evaluation.

Only one side routinely brings guns, and signs (some mass-produced) promising to use them, to political rallies. Only one side has leaders and revered mouthpieces who routinely say things like  “I tell people, don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils.” (Rush Limbaugh) Or “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” (Ann Coulter). Or “Members of Congress) ought to be lined up and shot. I’m talking about the liberal leadership.” (Duke Cunningham, former CA congressman) Or “You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims’ families”. (Glenn Beck) Or “We are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.” (Randall Terry of Operation Rescue) Or “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” (G. Gordon Liddy, felon turned talk show host) Or “So keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. Take back America.” (Kitty Werthmann, speaker at the “How to Take Back America Conference” in St. Louis) Or “Let’s talk a minute about ‘well-regulated militia’ and why you might need one because the government isn’t doing their job”. (Glenn Beck) Or “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.” (Joyce Kaufman, radio commentator and Tea Party speaker)

When called on the carpet for such remarks, these characters often insist that they were just joking – even though jokes generally are at least marginally funny. Freud would have a field day analyzing how their “humor” is almost always expressed in the vocabulary of violence and hatred.

Another thing you can predict with uncanny accuracy is that whenever the extremists get called out for their hatemongering, they will deny, spin, evade and – inevitably – shift the blame to “liberals”.  Before the shooting, Sarah Palin urged her followers to “reload”, and put images of crosshairs with names on a map. Afterward, she insisted that they were not really crosshairs at all; and yet she promptly took them off her site -why was that? The predictable reply is that she didn’t want anyone to misinterpret after the fact. But wouldn’t it have been just as easy for someone to “misinterpret” before the fact? And then, ever the hand-wringing victim of the “lamestream media” (which in fact promoted her like the greatest thing since toothpaste, even before she became one of its highly paid components), she raged about how libruls were out to get her with “blood libel” – a term that probably was not deliberately offensive, but just typically clueless.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh declared that the assassin had the full support of the Democratic Party (even though the prime victim was one of their own).  The head of the Tuscon Tea Party said that getting shot was Giffords’ own damn fault. Media talking heads lambasted “liberals” for supposedly exploiting this tragedy for political gain – even while the Tea Party Express was evoking the incident in fundraising emails. Many suggested that the whole thing might not have happened if only libruls hadn’t tried so hard to take away our guns, and everyone at Safeway had had one so we could’ve had a good old-fashioned Arizona shootout. (In fact, Arizona has some of the most lax gun laws in the universe, and firearms there are more abundant than rattlesnakes.) Bill O’Reilly, who apparently never listens to his own network or even his own words, fumed at those who dared question his brand of discourse as “merchants of hate” whose actions are “unprecedented”.

In my endless exploration of propaganda, I recently came across a website that promises “conservative commentary with an edge” (Is there any other kind of “conservative” commentary these days?) on which the moderator indignantly denied that any leading right-wing politicians had uttered incendiary statements. I promptly enlightened him about a few that readily came to mind, including Tea Party fanatic Sharron Angle, who very nearly was elected senator in Nevada after urging voters to “take out” Harry Reid and mentioned “Second Amendment remedies” as an option when you don’t get what you want. Well sir, he really went on a tear then, declaring that I was obviously one of them moon-eyed libruls, and I was quoting her out of context because she clearly was referring to arming yourself in general  against guvmint tyranny (such as, oh, the current administration) and  meant that you should FIRST try to take out Reid at the voting booth, and how could I be such an idiot as to think she was actually encouraging violence against elected American officials. Despite the well-demonstrated futility of attempting a real discussion with a frothy-mouthed ideologue, I couldn’t resist asking just, um, what country he thought “Second Amendment remedies” alluded to, anyway.

Within days of the massacre, as Gabrielle Giffords lay fighting for her life, fans of Sarah Palin weighed in on a Facebook page, and one had this to say about the 9-year-old girl murdered in the attack: “Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding-heart liberal anyway. Hey, as “they” say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.” If you think the other posters reprimanded her, think again. The next comment was about how “liberals are gong to use this as an excuse to take away all guns.” These folks haven’t just drunk the Kool-Aid, they’ve been baptized in it by total immersion. And sooner or later you have to wonder what kind of ideology would attract such life forms in such large numbers. For while it’s certainly not fair to judge any group by its dregs, these sentiments are all too typical of what you hear expressed at Tea Party gatherings, and by the faction’s political and media leaders.

For a very short time, it looked like there was going to be an era of civility, sanity and mutual respect in the wake of this tragedy. (Even Glenn Beck posted an appeal to stand against violence – next to a photo of himself brandishing a pistol in an attack-ready pose. You think we’re making this up?)  But needless to say, it was very short-lived. The venomous rhetoric will continue, and so will the violence and threats of violence. It’s just too profitable to give up. Eventually, there probably will be a massacre on a much larger scale, and odds are that such an incident might include a right-winger or two among its victims, if only by sheer chance. Then and only then, perhaps, they’ll finally start to look at the root of the problem. And they’ll no doubt conclude that it must be gay marriage.

Propaganda Prop # 2: Flag Waving

When the 112th Congress, freshly perked up with newly elected Tea Party darlings, convened this week, they did something that had never been done before: they read the entire Constitution on the floor of the House. The whole thing. No, really. Well, except for, um, the parts they didn’t want to read.

In a sane society, the common reaction to such grandstanding would be disbelief if not outrage. After all, the time for reading the Constitution is long before you even decide to run for public office, not after you come to town to do the job on the taxpayer dime. But instead, the typical reaction was, “How nifty. Somebody in Washington is finally paying attention to the Constitution.”

Which is, of course, precisely the reaction they wanted. They were making good use of another common technique from the propagandist’s toolkit: flag waving – i.e., wrapping oneself in the cloak of patriotism. Patriotism itself is nothing objectionable, mind you. It becomes propaganda when patriotism is equated with a particular partisan ideology. And in contemporary America, that almost always means “conservatism” (which in truth is anything but conservative, but that’s another story).

But there is certainly nothing new about the tactic itself. Back in 1775, Samuel Johnson remarked that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.  To which others have replied that it’s actually the first. Neither is strictly accurate; flag-waving is not the most commonly used propaganda technique. In fact, we hadn’t planned to cover it so soon, but sometimes a timely news item like the one above serves you something so delicious you just have to feast on it. On the other hand, it’s not the last thing propagandists would think of using, either.

The objective in wrapping your ideology in a star-spangled cloak is not just to make yourself appear patriotic, but to make those who do not wholeheartedly support your ideology appear unpatriotic. The Teabaggers want not only to present themselves as champions of the Constitution but also to suggest that certain policies of the current administration (especially “Obamacare”) are somehow unconstitutional. Democrats could either refuse to support the reading of the document (in which case the Republicanoids would say “What do you have against the Constitution, anyway?”) or go along with it (in which case they could say, “Aha! Why didn’t you think of this?”) Either way, brilliant ploy.

Every now and then, as if to validate the maxim that nothing is so enduring as a bad idea, certain right-wingers demonstrate their reverence for the Constitution in another way: proposing to alter it in order to ban flag-burning. That’s right: a political faction that loudly proclaims its support of “limited government” and personal liberty wants to give the government power to dictate how individuals might use their own property when it’s adorned with the very emblem of that liberty. The mind reels.

Just how big a problem do you suppose flag-burning is, anyway? When was the last time you ever even heard of an American citizen burning the flag? Thirty years ago? Forty? But there’s one prediction you can take to the bank: if they ever do succeed in passing such legislation, there will be THOUSANDS of flag burners in the streets to protest it. And virtually all of them will be genuine patriots who never would have imagined they’d do such a thing, but feel it’s their duty to challenge such idiocy.  (I might even be the first to strike a match.) Surely even Glenn Beck can figure that one out. But then, the real objective is not to protect the flag (as if there were only one in existence) or liberty; the real objective is to present themselves as morally superior by being patriotically superior.

This kind of tactic has been a right-wing staple at least since McCarthy, who under the pretext of ferreting out communist spies and subversives, put stars in his own crown by persecuting anyone who varied in the slightest from the conventional mold – which potentially included everyone.  And all you really need to know about most of today’s right-wing extremists is that they regard McCarthy as an unjustly maligned hero. Never mind that he destroyed the lives of countless innocent people; he was on the “right” side, so he was a demigod. (Ironic historical footnote that will no doubt be deemed as irrelevant: Yes, Virginia, there were a few communists lurking around. And how many did McCarthy actually find?)

In the post-Cold War world, it has become difficult to label your fellow Americans as communists without making yourself sound like a total ass (which doesn’t stop some from doing it anyway), so the usual approach is to tone down the epithet to “socialist” instead. (Neither communist nor socialist is really synonymous with un-American, but just try explaining that to a Tea Partier.) It’s not unusual for them to brand the president as a communist, a socialist and a fascist all at once, blissfully unaware of any contradiction.

James Watt, who was Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan, allegedly summed up the attitude by saying, “I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It’s liberals and Americans”. More recently, Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann channeled McCarthy by declaring, “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.”

Just take a good look at the right-wing websites, books, magazines, newspapers and TV programs, and you’ll see the same theme hammered on over and over and over: “Liberalism” (whatever that may be) is evil, and “liberals” hate America. That has become the very backbone of contemporary “conservatism”. Consider just a few in the seemingly endless stream of vituperative book titles: “Treason; Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terror”; “Let Freedom Ring; Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism”;  “Deliver Us From Evil; Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism”; “How the Left Swiftboated America; the Liberal Media Conspiracy to Make You Think George Bush Was the Worst President in History”.

The latter is especially interesting. It says that it isn’t just adherents of a particular ideology, or those who reject a particular ideology, who are un-American. Even criticizing one single person constitutes an attack on America itself – if and only if that person happens to be a Republican. In contrast, right-wingers who attack Barack Obama, even in the vilest and most childish terms, generally label themselves as “patriots”. Today’s “patriots” jeer when the President of the United States is awarded a Nobel Prize, and cheer when he fails to bring the Olympics to America.

And then there’s this literary gem: “The Real America; Messages from the Heart and Heartland”.  Got that? It’s only the “red” states that make up the real Amurrca.  Ask any of Sarah Palin’s admirers (and apparently she does have some) just what she has to offer of value besides being within spittin’ distance of Russia, and the answer you’re likely to get is that she’s a “real American”. You know, as opposed to those plastic Americans who have less reactionary views. Sarah herself is at least savvy enough to cash in on the divisive rhetoric, referring to small towns as “what I call the real America… very patriotic, very pro-America” areas of the country. You know, as opposed to the false America of those elitist metropolitan areas where people think they’re special because of their geographical location, and where major media outlets allow prophets like Palin to get their message out to Real America.

As publicity stunts go, perhaps the reading of the Constitution in Congress is harmless enough. It only cost taxpayers a million or so, and just think, that dough might have been squandered on something totally frivolous like school lunches or public libraries or even (shudder) saving the lives of a few impoverished children through communist/socialist/Marxist/Nazi/Muslim/Klingon healthcare. Maybe the Tea Party will even absorb some of the things the Constitution actually says, to root out what they fantasize it says. (Huh? The Second Amendment is really about militias? Gee, who knew.)

But don’t bet on it. Most likely, it will have exactly the kind of PR payoff they hoped it would. This is indeed the Real America now. And it’s a land where demagoguery, bitter partisanship  and “patriotic” polemics reign supreme. Get used to it.

The Year of Lying Dynamically

We’ve already noted Hitler’s notorious observation that a “big lie” is more likely to be believed than a little one, an ironic statement since he was referring to supposed efforts by the Jewish population to deceive people rather than his own efforts to deceive people about the Jews. In any case, the accuracy of his comment has been demonstrated over and over again; but never more frequently than in the year just past.

Perhaps no year in recent memory has been distinguished by conspicuous honesty in media, politics or the public forum, but 2010 really takes the cake when it comes to monumental mendacity. The folks at Truthout have singled out 6 “Big Lies” that were especially popular this past year, and it’s certainly worth reading the article to get the gritty details (although the author seems to get confused by her own numbering system). But briefly, the lies presented are:

1. Health care reform amounts to a “government takeover” of medicine.
2. Barack Obama and Shirley Sherrod are racists.
3. George Soros was a Nazi collaborator.
4. Obama’s trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million per day.
5. Health care reform will result in “death panels”.
6. Barack Obama is incapable of speaking eloquently without a teleprompter.

These lies have three things in common: all are utterly absurd; all are very easily discredited; and all are fervently believed by a large portion of the American population. But this selection of lies is by no means inclusive, and there are several other Big Lies that gained a lot of traction during the past year that would have been worthy of focus.

For example, there is the notion (alluded to in the article) that Obama is not a U.S. citizen; there’s the notion that he’s a Muslim (one moral we can glean is that just about any lie will be believed if it has the word “Obama” attached to it); there’s the notion that scientists have deliberately cooked the books to support the “hoax” of climate change; there’s the notion that ACORN was a corrupt, politically motivated organization that committed significant voter fraud. And on and on and on. We won’t even count such perennial warhorses as the notion that the U.N. is a corrupt, arcane organization that is bent on world domination.

Another interesting year-in-review article focuses on one single liar, but a very prominent one: Glenn Beck. Media Matters serves up a list of 15 lies he served to his fans the past year (by no means an inclusive list), the last of which is repeated claim that if he ever lied on the air, Fox would fire him. Guess which network he’ll be lying for in 2011?