Propaganda Prop #3: Bible-Thumping

“Prayer is a different thing for Republicans than it is for the rest of us; you don’t actually ask God for things, you sort of ask God to make clear to other people what he’s already shown to you.” — Garrison Keillor

Not long ago, a certain right-wing politician that you’ve probably heard too much about already published a book attacking President Obama. (Say it ain’t so!). The book was titled To Save America, and that’s certainly an interesting instance of the propaganda technique we call flag-waving. But it’s the subtitle that we’re concerned with here: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine. Not just because of the obligatory right-wing characterization of the president as a “socialist” (which is certainly dopey enough) but because of the use of “secular” as a pejorative. It’s an excellent illustration of the third propaganda technique we’d like to examine, a technique we call Bible-thumping.

Usually, Bible-thumping means brandishing specific scriptural passages in an effort to defend specific extremist views. But we’re using it in a broader sense, to include using religion in general to defend extremist views in general. In your Professor Of Propaganda’s lexicon, Bible-thumping is the conviction that not only does God take sides in every petty human squabble, but he invariably sides with arrogance, ignorance or bigotry – and ideally with all three at once.

Our illustrious politician-author, and others of his bent, proceed from three assumptions: (a) America was intended to be a Christian nation; (b) religionists are more moral and more patriotic than secularists; and (c) “conservatives” are religious and “liberals” are not.  All of these assumptions are premium grade horseshit. Granted, “liberals” are somewhat less likely to be religious than “conservatives”, but what’s far more significant is that “conservatives” are far more likely to be fundamentalists, and therefore far more likely to indulge in Bible-thumping – which is certainly no guarantee of moral soundness or patriotic fervor. (If you’re curious about how this secularist-basher applies Christian moral principles to his own life, have a look.)

We should note that Bible-thumping is an equal opportunity activity, not limited to followers of the Bible. You just as easily could quote the Koran, or the Upanishads or the Avesta or Peanuts. But it is the Bible, by far, that people are more likely to be pointing at your head when they say things like these:

  • “I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is  a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called on by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.”  (Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue)
  • “We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will be (sic) get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”  (Gary North, Christian Reconstructionist)
  • “We thank God that it (the atomic bomb) has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”  (President Harry Truman, after dropping the first of two holy offerings on Japan)
  • “God told me to run.” (paraphrased from several right-wing politicians. Considering that they often run against each other, it’s clear that the Almighty either is a fickle patron, or wants most if not all of them to lose.)
  • “America today begins to turn back to God.”  (a certain Bad Actor, explaining why a crowd had mindlessly assembled at his blatantly self-promotional rally.)

There is never a good reason to mix religion and government. NEVER. No matter what religion, no matter what government. And whenver anyone tries to do so, you should be suspicious of their motives. And you should REALLY batten down the hatches when you hear a politician, especially if he happens to be the leader of the nation, say something like this:

God the Almighty has made our nation. By defending its existence we are defending His work.”

I really hate to do this, but the nation this leader was referring to wasn’t the U.S. It was The Third Reich.

 

 

 

 

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Stewart Responds to PoltiFact Responding to Stewart Responding to Fox

Throughout history, the humorist has been to some degree revered in virtually every culture, and rightly so.  Humor is a way of seeing reality with its masks stripped away, and it’s safe to say that Mark Twain is quoted far more often than Immanuel Kant. Court jesters were prized by their employers not only because they provided diversion from the tedium of attending royal feasts and ordering beheadings, but also because their foolery frequently contained valuable insight and implicit sage advice, often expressed more bluntly than anyone else dared.

In the contemporary era, there are few humorists more astute and audacious (and therefore more hilarious) than Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. They speak boldly and hilariously not only to political power but to media power. But I repeat myself.

Recently, Stewart was a guest on Fox “News” and pointed out that Fox’s viewers are the most misinformed segment of the American population. Host Chris Wallace naturally  protested. And he received some backup from a rather unlikely source: the nonpartisan fact-checking organization PolitiFact. They said Stewart was wrong, because Fox viewers rate supremely ignorant only in some studies, while in others they’re just somewhere near the bottom – which even if perfectly accurate doesn’t negate the observation that they’re the most misinformed overall.

Stewart responds as only Stewart can. Feigning humble ignorance he “apologizes” for his mistake, then casually points out some of the lies Fox has spread. And then some more, and then some more until he is visually buried under a mountain of them. But bear in mind that by no means is he listing ALL of Fox’s recent lies; he’s just enumerating SOME that PolitiFact itself has pointed out. These include two lies PolitiFact awarded its Lie Of The Year honor in 2009 and 2010 (“death panels” and “government takeover of healthcare” respectively). In other words, in order to challenge Stewart, PolitiFact had to challenge itself. Utterly surreal.

When the foremost propaganda arm of a major political party successfully masquerades as a news organization; when in fact that propaganda arm is the most popular among “news” networks in the country; when even nonpartisan watchdog groups can’t be relied on anymore, there’s only one thing to say.

Thank heavens for the comedians.

Bad Actor Enters New Stage

It’s hard to believe, but some personalities are too hateful and over-the-top even for Fox. Well, to be more precise, some personalities are too hateful and over-the-top for some of Fox’s viewers and sponsors. And after several months of steadily declining ratings for the network and steadily declining viewership and sponsorship for a certain talking headless in its lineup, Fox finally showed him the exit. (Sponsors kept dropping him like a hot potato covered with anthrax because of complaints from the public. And note that if you ever complain to sponsors of such garbage, it pays to be civil. Because of the way large companies purchase advertising, it often happens that those at the top of the food chain are quite unaware of what they are supporting. Such appears to have been the case with The Men’s Wearhouse, which agreed to pull its ads from the program in question after actually watching it.)

You’ll notice that we do not mention this personality by name. His name has been mentioned more than enough already, and we don’t want to give him one jot more attention, since that is precisely what he craves (well, and the money might have a little to do with it as well), by engaging in puerile hatemongering and rabble rousing. So we’ll just refer to him as The Bad Actor.

Not that he’s the only bad actor out there in the world of demagoguery, mind you. There is an endless army of them polluting the airwaves, seemingly cloning themselves at an exponential rate. They know that by preaching hatred, they’ll always find a gullible and impassioned audience willing to shell out the bucks; and if the target of the hatred happens to be them thar libruls, you’ll really have them eating out of your hand.

Note that when we say “bad actor”, we certainly don’t mean to imply a lack of skill; we just mean a presentational style borrowed from melodrama rather than Stanislavski. It’s unlikely that these characters themselves buy the snake oil they’re peddling, and their stilted delivery betrays that insincerity, especially to anyone who (like yours truly) is experienced in theater.

But this one really stands out from the herd of bad actors; he’s taken the hucksterism styles of P.T. Barnum and Joe McCarthy and Ronald Reagan and tossed them into a blender, then cranked the whole thing up to the highest (or lowest) notch imaginable. He’s the one noted for, among other things, a crying act so manifestly phony that it would get him booted out of any decent junior high school drama production. But his faithful followers gobble it up, and see no trace of irony in his assertion that he weeps because he fears for his country.

The ever-meticulous media watchdogs Media Matters for America compiled a list of the 50 worst things he said on the air at Fox, and you really have to be amazed that they could narrow it down to a roster so short. But they jumped the gun by publishing this list 3 months before he left Fox; they should have known that entering the stretch, he would make every effort to out-nutty his own previous statements.

So now Fox is rid of him, but don’t you shed any crocodile tears – he now has his own Internet network (available by paid subscription, whaddaya know), the motto of which is “The Truth Lives Here”. (It’s kept in a cage and tortured daily.) And he knows a trick or two to generate publicity for it.

A couple of days before he was scheduled to move from one stage to another (the timing was no doubt purely coincidental), he decided to attend an outdoor film screening on the lawn in New York City. Now you might well expect that the reception he would get from the public at such an event would be less than warm and fuzzy. Not only has he spread all kinds of lies and hatred about the “liberals” who make up the bulk of the city’s population, but he has openly declared that he hates the families of 9-11 victims (like any true patriot, of course). Nonetheless, all accounts of those in attendance suggest that the crowd was unduly civil toward him. All accounts, that is, except for his own. According to his statements, he was harassed and attacked by a “hateful” mob (of wimpy leftist elites) who somehow got past his bodyguards.

One thing that apparently did happen was that a young woman spilled wine on his wife – the kind of incident that probably isn’t rare at such a crowded event. But even though the woman admitted she took a certain retrospective delight in the spillage, she insists it was an accident, and that she promptly apologized and even helped clean up the mess. But even if she’d done it deliberately, this was nowhere near the level of harassment the Bad Actor has alleged, and it’s certainly nowhere near the level of harassment and intimidation he’s recommended toward “liberals”. Funny thing is, even in this age of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support his side of the story. Surely he wouldn’t (gasp) lie about it, would he?

In addition to dubious anecdotes, he has a knack for using visual aids and imagery to help connect solidly with the guts of his audience while completely bypassing their brains. My favorite example occurred at his “Restoring Honor” rally, at which he demonstrated his own level of honor by claiming to have held Washington’s original inaugural address in his hands. (He’s also claimed to have held the Declaration of Independence.) He held it in his hands?

HE HELD IT IN HIS HANDS???

Anyone who stops and thinks about it, regardless of whether they’ve seen “National Treasure”, must realize how absurd this claim is. In fact, he later admitted it was a lie. Do you suppose that confession lodged in (or between) the ears of any of his fawning fans? Not likely. All it took was his initial lie to convince them that he was telling the truth, and no amount of subsequent truth-telling, even from him, will convince them that he was lying.

It’s truly bad acting at its finest.

Fourth-Right-Ness: Independence Day as a Tool for Partisan Sniping

The U.S. just celebrated its “birthday”, which it always does on the wrong day (July 4 instead of July 2, the date the Declaration of Independence was adopted, or August 2, the date most delegates signed it) and you might think that such an occasion would be one of national unity. But for many ideological extremists, it’s an opportunity to double down on their attacks against those who do not wholeheartedly concur with their extreme beliefs and values.

At a Republican Party barbecue in Georgia, Representative Paul Broun was offering up a prayer to the (presumably right-wing) God he claims to follow when he said :

“Father, there are many who want to destroy us from outside this nation. Folks like al-Qaeda and the radical Islamists. But there are folks that want to destroy us from inside, the progressives and the socialists, who want to make this nation a nation that’s no longer under you, under God, but a nation that’s ruled by man.”

It’s no secret that these people seem to think the most patriotic thing they can do is express their irrational, all-consuming hatred for half the citizens of the United States; and judging by Broun’s “prayer” it appears they also think it’s the most pious thing they can do. Surely God must hate all the same people they do, or what use is He?

There was an even cuter trick on a right-wing website called BigJournalism.com (in keeping with the prevailing concept that “journalism” entails misinformation and ideological indoctrination). This site is under the stewardship of Andrew Breitbart, whose truth allergies we’ve previously noted.

Here’s the deal: Big Journalism published the text of the Declaration of Independence, accompanied by an illustration of George Washington; and various words and phrases throughout the text are linked to other web pages that evidently are intended to suggest that President Obama is as tyrannical and oppressive as King George – though quite often, the links just give the impression of having been chosen at random. If you’re really bored and crave some cheap laughs, you might try looking at this post and clicking on some of these links.

If you click on the phrase “invasions on the rights of the people”, you’ll get a news story about how the House of Representatives passed the Health Care Reform Bill. Yes, you read that right. An action by the HOUSE to help extend the right of medical care to all citizens is deemed an INVASION OF RIGHTS by the PRESIDENT.

Click on the passage about how the king has “incited domestic insurrections”, and what do you get? A Wikipedia article about ACORN. Yep, the (former) existence of an organization devoted to improving the lives of disadvantaged citizens is proof positive that Barack Obama encourages people to form angry mobs bearing … well, guns and racist signs or something.

Oh, and try clicking on “harass our people”. Please, please do. You’ll connect with the blatant lie (now an official GOP talking point parroted by Newt Gingrich and John Boehner) that “Obamacare” will call for 16,000 new IRS agents to “track everyone’s bank accounts”.

And try the one about how he’s “ravaged our coasts”. That will take you to an op-ed at The National Review (another impeccable source of Big “Journalism”) about the administration’s moratorium on drilling. Yep, trying to stop oil companies from ravaging our coasts constitutes ravaging our coasts. If you’re a black Democrat and it’s a second Tuesday in March under a blue moon.

Propaganda like this even manages to take (relatively) legitimate concerns about some of Obama’s actions (e.g., Libya) and convert them into grossly inaccurate smears. What a breathtaking achievement.

Although this post is, unlike the “prayer”, ostensibly aimed at denouncing an individual rather than a large segment of the population, it’s hard not to connect the “patriotic” agenda of Breitbart and company with the Tea Party rhetoric, often incendiary and sometimes violent, of “taking back” THEIR country from the 53% of American voters who elected Barack Obama.

It’s hard to believe this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Or, for that matter, the putative Founding Father.

Lessons Learned and Points Pondered in the Media Maelstrom Over Weiner’s Wiener (Part 2)

Lesson 8: You can always blame THEM

When it comes to the sexcapades of public figures, members of the punditocracy show absolutely no imagination or variety in fingering who’s responsible for the degeneracy. They simply point to the same scapegoat they use for everything else they perceive as a problem: the “liberals”.  It’s all THEIR fault. After all, if libruls back in the Sixties hadn’t practiced all that free love crap, nobody ever would have discovered s*x, and babies still would be delivered by birds the way God intended.

In the political arena, “liberal” is generally held to be synonymous with Democrat. (You’ll have to ask someone else to explain why; it’s utterly beyond me.) The official spin is that Democrats/ “liberals” are by and large the ones who indulge in extramarital hanky-panky, while Republicans/ “conservatives” are paragons of virtue. Like most spin, this requires an extraordinary capacity for ignoring facts. But even former first lady Rosalynn Carter seemingly bought into this myth when she joked (?) that Democrats do it to their secretaries while Republicans do it to their country. Meanwhile, her husband was pilloried by the media for admitting that he’d “committed adultery in my heart”. Remember, thinking about it is the same as doing it, especially if you’re one of them libruls.

Ask most Americans which president was the most accomplished philanderer, and the answer you’re likely to get is Kennedy. Not even close. Warren Gamaliel Harding ran a harem-like operation that made JFK look like Barney Fife. He even maintained a special room in The White House for his many trysts, and fathered a child out of wedlock while serving as president. Did we mention that Harding was a Republican? You don’t suppose that has anything to do with why his satyric exploits are seldom mentioned?

Or Americans with a much shorter attention span (which includes a great many of them, alas) might respond that Bill Clinton was the all-time champion womanizer. After all, he engaged in some adulterous acts with Monica Lewinsky (which didn’t include intercourse, but never mind that) lasting by some estimates a total of about 45 minutes, none of it occurring, contrary to rumor, in the Oval Office. (Shhh!!! Don’t tell the media. “Sex in the Oval Office” just makes such a great soundbite.)

He was even impeached for it. Yeah, yeah, it really wasn’t about the sex, of course; it was about perjury and obstruction of justice. Yeah, that’s it. After all, he lied under oath, didn’t he?

Not so fast. Most likely, he didn’t. When he said “I did not have sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky, he probably meant it as a factual statement by the standards he understood to apply.  Which would make him in agreement with about two-thirds of American men who also would not classify oral sex as “sexual relations”. Politically, it might have become known as The Lewinsky Defense, except that it was already known as the Newt Defense, in honor of Republican Newt Gingrich who’d used it to deny an affair he’d had a few years earlier.

But if you somehow could look into Clinton’s heart and determine that he was one of the other third of American men and really was lying, then it was perjury, right?

Well, actually, no. There is a big difference. Many people lie under oath without committing perjury – including anyone who falsely enters a plea of not guilty. Perjury is lying under oath about the evidence in a case. When Clinton “lied” under oath, he was being investigated by Kenneth Starr for … um, let’s see, what was it? It was either Whitewater or Paula Jones or defeating George Bush or farting in his second grade class, or some combination of the above, or something like that.  So in order to establish that he was guilty of perjury, you’d have to establish that there was a direct link between Monica and all of that. Good luck.

As lay people, you and I can be excused for not understanding this distinction. There is no such excuse for the Congress that impeached the president, most of whom were lawyers. It was all about politics. Oh yes, and s*x. The Republicanoids in Congress, the right-wing pundits and the televangelist set were shocked, shocked at the president’s behavior – which they nonetheless insisted on relating to the public in every lurid detail.

The funny thing is that among the Republicans who were demanding his testicles on a platter, a good many were adulterers themselves. These included Illinois Representative Henry Hyde, who oversaw the proceedings, and Idaho representative Helen Chenoweth, one of Clinton’s most indignant accusers. And theirs were not 45-minute dalliances that would qualify for the Newt Defense. They were full-blown Tab A in Slot B affairs lasting FIVE YEARS and SIX YEARS respectively.  (If you have the stomach for a longer – though by no means inclusive – list of GOP adulterers, from the perspective of “Christian” hypocrisy, you’ll find it here.) How much did you hear from the librul media about all of this? For that matter, how much did you hear from the Republican guardians of morality?

But “conservatives” don’t just aggressively push the myths that “liberals” are more immoral (read: libidinous) and more dishonest; they also aggressively push the myth that “liberals” are much more cavalier about their lechery. (Adultery is, one gathers, the one thing that “liberals” are truly tolerant of.) Every time there is a sex (or even remotely related to sex) scandal involving a Democrat, the right-wingers will bemoan the fact that “liberals” don’t chastise their own. They say this often and loudly, perhaps so as to drown out the chorus of “liberals” who are, um, chastising their own. Of Weiner’s conduct, Fox “News” bewailed how disgraceful it is not only that Democrats do this type of thing, but that they “get away with it”.

It’s hard to imagine exactly what they meant by getting away with it, since Weiner’s non-story made headlines of every newspaper, TV news (as well as “news”) program and website in the land. Furthermore, he lost his job because of it – due to pressure from his OWN PARTY. But Fox hucksters continue to rewrite the news to their liking. And they get away with it.

Compare this to Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who used to say of Clinton that “it’s not about the blowjob, it’s about the lying.” Then during his own campaign, he was accused of having an affair for nearly a year with a PROSTITUTE. He repeatedly and vehemently denied this, but -whaddaya know – turns out he was lying. And  of course the guardians of morality in the media and the Republican party loudly demanded that he resign. Nah, just kidding. The same demagogues who were all over Clinton for lying about his blowjobs and all over Weiner for lying about maybe considering blowjobs and all over Democrat Eliot Spitzer for patronizing a call girl, were strangely very forgiving of Republican Vitter for lying about his extended patronage of a call girl. And he’s still comfortably ensconced in office right now.

Lesson 9: It’s mostly irrelevant

People like to justify their voyeuristic obsession with the sex lives of politicians by pegging it as a barometer of character – which is a Victorian notion that wasn’t even accurate in the Victorian Age. The argument goes that if a politician will cheat on his or her spouse, then he or she will also cheat on his or her constituents. And on paper, that even has a certain logic to it. But in the real world, wherever sex is involved,  all bets are off. Mrs. Carter was on to something: there is no correlation among public officials between marital infidelity and dishonesty on the job, nor is there any sound connection between fidelity and honest job performance.

Kennedy and Eisenhower, despite their skirt-chasing, generally were straight with the American people. Bill Clinton will be forever branded a liar because of ONE LIE he probably DIDN’T tell about his sex life. But as presidents go, his Pinocchio quotient wasn’t particularly high. There’s no reason to believe that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush cheated on their wives while in office (Bush, for one, may have done so prior to that) but they were without a doubt three of the most dishonest men ever to set foot in the White House. And Anthony Weiner (who, let’s reiterate, was NOT caught in any actual sexual activity) had an impeccable level of job performance.

Lesson 10: There may be a ray of hope

In spite of his impeachment, Clinton was reelected handily in 1996. And at the time of his resignation, more than half of Anthony Weiner’s constituents thought he should stick it out (so to speak), compared to only about a third who said he should resign. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a solid (if minority) core of Americans who refuse to be manipulated by the media.