Reviewing the National Review, Part 1

Natreview

As you may be aware, right-wing fanaticism in the U.S. comes in several overlapping varieties, each catered to by its own set of delusional and manipulative media outlets.  The largest segment is the Good Old Boy Faction, centered in the Deep South, which revolves around blatant bigotry and manufactured outrage; it finds its main voice in Fox “News” , OAN and talk radio. Then there is the Tin Hat Brigade, which never met a conspiracy theory too kooky to swallow — at least if it’s about someone named Clinton or Obama; its outlets are also the above, as well as Breitbart, Alex Jones, NRATV, et al. And a relatively small but supremely influential sector is the Smug Pseudointellectual Coterie, which tries to excuse or gloss over the beliefs promulgated by the other two groups, often while selectively citing some Eighteenth Century theorist and/or pretending that Ayn Rand is actually worth reading. Its most powerful media organ is almost certainly the ever-entertaining National Review.

The NR was founded in 1955 by William F. Don’t-You-Dare-Omit-My-Middle-Initial Buckley Jr., a poster boy of white privilege who became the godfather of modern “conservatism” (i.e., neoconservatism — see the difference here). Its objective was to provide this “conservatism” with a voice he felt it had been lacking in American culture, a claim he made with a perfectly straight face.  Unlike most reactionaries, Buckley was highly educated, articulate and suave — indeed he played those qualities to the hilt. Even as a teenager watching him on TV, I was amused by his haughty demeanor and stuffy lip-licking pretentiousness.

But a jackass that can bray in different languages remains, nonetheless, a jackass. And Buckley’s displays of pomposity could not conceal the speciousness of his arguments or the faultiness of his facts. Despite his efforts to mask the bigotry at the core of conservatism and “conservatism”, it sometimes oozed to the surface, not only in his beloved political journal, but in his own words.  Peel away the slick veneer of William F., and you find the grubby persona of Billy Bob. In one of the televised exchanges with his frequent verbal sparring partner, Gore Vidal, he called Vidal a “queer” (a major slur back then); and he was to the end an opponent of gay marriage.  A partial list of his other extensive crudities, courtesy of Rationalwiki:

  • Buckley’s career began in 1951 with the publication of God and Man at Yale, an attack on his alma mater that urged the firing of professors whom he felt were insufficiently hostile to socialism and atheism. Despite this early assault on academic freedom, Buckley in later years routinely took offense at what he saw as liberal “political correctness[8]
  • Suggested that prostitutes and addicts with AIDS be tattooed so as to warn others.[12]
  • Supported Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism, which he never seemed to regret.[23] Freedom if it’s only your freedom, right?
  • Prior to [officially] renouncing his racist views in the mid 60’s, he used the National Review to support segregation. He even wrote an article in support of white supremacy, and he never really apologized for the article.[24]

Not only did he “never apologize” for his white supremacist screed of the Fifties, he reaffirmed his commitment to its tenets when questioned about it in a more enlightened era decades later.

In 1988 Buckley sneered at the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis on the grounds that he had no experience in Washington. Twelve years later, he was hawking former Texas Governor George W. Bush and sneering at those who questioned Junior’s lack of experience in Washington. It’s unbearably painful to contemplate the Gordian knot such an erudite gentlemen as Buckley must have twisted himself into in order to get behind a witless wastrel who didn’t know that Social Security was a federal program, and thought that “persevere” was the same word as “preserve”. For that matter, the elder Bush, whom Buckley touted over Dukakis, was not exactly an intellectual titan himself.

The torch is passed

Buckley is gone now, but well before his departure, he inspired others to carry on his great work at the ever-entertaining National Review.

Over the years, the NR has provided a frequent platform for the likes of Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, John Derbyshire, and countless others more or less equally vile. For most of its personnel, however, the problem isn’t so much vileness as cluelessness and naivete. Which brings us to Jonah Goldberg.

Not only a frequent contributor but for a time the online editor, Goldberg was an excellent choice to assume the mantle of eloquent advocate for vacuity. (Except that his elevation to the post violated The Master’s expressed dictum that the editor should be a “believing Christian”. But hey.) He’s even authored a book called  Liberal Fascism that is every bit as inane as it sounds.

Jonah entered my life shortly after that disastrous 2000 election. Like other thinking and concerned citizens, I was quite disturbed by not only the caliber of the individual who had attained the office of the presidency, but also by the manner in which he did so. And I really, really wanted to understand how so many people could support not only one, but both. So I resolved to try to find whatever justification there might be (and that I possibly might have overlooked) for the views and attitudes of the American right-wing culture at the turn of the millennium. And it seemed to me that the best way to do that was to read the NR. Which I began doing regularly.

But my quest for a revelation was entirely a bust. In fact, I ended up more bewildered and appalled than ever. For all its pretense at scholarly depth, this reactionary rag just dressed up the same seedy wingnut talking points in a glittery ball gown: that the Second Amendment enshrines a citizen’s right to pack heat — and any attempt to reduce the number of people guns kill is pure Gestapo; that abortion is murder — and outlawing it is the best way to make it go away; that American media has a liberal bias; that liberals are simultaneously socialists, communists and fascists; that racism is either extinct or no big deal; that America should be a fundamentalist theocracy; that the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor; that Ronald Reagan was a Great Communicator and a Strong Leader of Impeccable Character who brought back patriotism, ended the Cold War and cured insomnia; and that Ayn Rand is actually worth reading.

The NR declared that obviously American media have a liberal bias, because there are more news stories about “gun control” than about guns. Never mind that (a) guns are normally not very newsworthy until they kill someone, and (b) gun-totin’ “conservatives” themselves are more interested in reporting and hearing about “gun control” than anyone else. The cover of one issue featured a smirking George W. Bush — who declared that his electoral victory was “political capital, and I intend to spend it” and taunted congressional Democrats to “get on board or be left behind” —  proclaiming that his most endearing quality was his “modesty”.

At one point one of NR’s readers wrote in to ask for recommendations about where college kids could attend “conservative” classes. Rather than admonish the reader for trying to polarize knowledge (which “conservatives” frequently do by wailing about academic “liberal bias”, which is more imaginary than real), the editors obliged by actually making some suggestions about where to do just that. To these folks, there are liberal facts and there are conservative facts (also known as alternative facts); and they feel they are entitled to be saturated and protected from reality by the latter, whether it be in the media or in academia; and any professor who fails to do so is guilty of trying to indoctrinate students into communism. (Thumbing through a “conservative” high school science textbook, I once came across this statement: “We can be sure the earth was created exactly as the Bible tells us.” This is no doubt the kind of science “conservatives” want to see in university textbooks as well.)

Craving a smidgen of illumination, I wrote to the editors of NR Online about some of the idiotic statements it had published, and to my surprise, I received several replies from Jonah Goldberg, the online editor in the flesh. I give him credit for at least making an attempt to bridge the communication gap with one of them librulz, and perhaps he honestly was doing the best he could. But he didn’t exactly appease my horror and disgust any — quite the contrary.

When I commented about the many, many, many, many shady GOP election shenanigans in Florida in 2000, he replied that he knew there were no irregularities because a journalist pal in Florida had told him so. He was dead serious.

He wrote a piece bemusing that “liberals” protest so much about GMO’s but seem to be quite okay with stem cell research. I gently pointed out to him that, first of all, objection to GMO’s was by no means exclusively or even primarily, a concern of the left (most of the left-leaning folks I know consider it much ado about nothing, as I do myself). And second,  how often do you hear of anyone consuming a petri dish full of stem cells?

Desperate to find any excuse he could to ridicule the “kumbaya crowd”, he even wrote an article about the leftist excess known as … wait for it… vegetarianism. Which he assailed with “facts” that he must have obtained from a “conservative” professor. Whereupon some of his readers informed him that they were both vegetarian and “conservative”, so STFU already.

Meanwhile, one of his fellow columnists penned a smug self-congratulatory piece about how he had made peace with being a “crunchy conservative” — i.e., a right-winger who appreciates “health food”. In classic winger fashion, he focused on the impact upon his own well-being and pocketbook, steering clear of the impact his choices might have for the rest of the planet.

While indulging in the usual right-wing nonsense about abortion, Jonah opined that “liberals” don’t seem to have any clear belief about when life begins. I responded that on the contrary, most “liberals” seem to just figure life begins when it actually begins: i.e., with birth. And even if anyone could prove otherwise, and establish beyond a doubt that a fetus is a fully entitled person that has a right to live, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that said fetus has a right to live inside another person’s body. And I noted that the very fixation on when life begins is a major tangent than has no bearing on the more crucial questions of what factors contribute to abortion and what measures can prevent it. I asked him why, given the counterproductive chamber of horrors that resulted when abortion was banned in the past, he presumed it would be any more effective in the future.

Moreover, I invited him to indulge with me in a little thought experiment. Imagine, I suggested, that the government actually succeeds in decreeing that life begins at conception. Will it then begin issuing certificates of conception instead of birth certificates? And in order to make certain that such conceptions are accurately documented, will it begin monitoring them? Is that the kind of role he envisions and desires for the Big Bad Government he professes to be leery of?

But such an attempt to provoke a more thought-provoking discourse than the NR probably had seen in a decade would just meet with a response like, “Sorry, I just can’t take this seriously.” Which is, alas, the big problem with people like him. They have no trouble being dead serious about birtherism, voter fraud, “deep state”, climategate, “socialized medicine”, “death panels”,  gun confiscation, the “War on Christmas”, and Planned Parenthood “selling baby parts”. But facts and possibilities that pierce their smug “conservative” bubble? Sorry, can’t swallow that.

He exchanged emails with me several times, probably because he was consumed by the right-wing obsession with confrontation and one-upmanship. But finally he stormed off in a hissy fit and wouldn’t come out of his trailer again. And what prompted it? I had sent a message in which I casually commented that I generally had found Jews to be more tolerant than Christians. You’d think that Jonah, being certifiably Jewish himself, would have been pleased by that. But while wingnuttery may exist for the exclusive benefit of the male WASP culture, it has managed to entice a number of individuals outside that caste (token minorities, etc.) into passionately defending it. And thus he replied in a venomous snit riddled with uncharacteristic errors of grammar and spelling, as if I’d sprayed graffiti on the Statue Of Liberty.

The honeymoon was over. But truth be told, I was ready for it to be over. I had begun to realize that if you’ve read one NR article, you’ve pretty much read them all.

(See Eric Alterman’s astute commentary about NR on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.)

 

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Culture Of Confrontation

Argument clinic

Of all the many great Monty Python sketches, I think my favorite is Argument Clinic. In addition to being just plain hilarious, it makes — as great comedy often does — some very astute observations about what passes for modern culture. It underscores how people love and crave interpersonal conflict. It illustrates that a great deal of what we call argument is just mindless “automatic gainsaying”. And it suggests that a great deal of arguing is as pointless and absurd as voluntarily being insulted or hit on the head.

But perhaps the most amusing aspect of all is the preposterous irony of the premise that a person would have to frequent a special clinic in order to find a confrontation. In truth, you’d be more likely to have to hit a clinic to avoid confrontation. It’s all around us. Modern life is saturated with it — as you well know if you’ve done very much driving. Or watching TV. Or attending sporting events. Or browsing online forums. Confrontation is the coin of the realm in contemporary America. Many people seem, quite literally to live for it. They’ll spit venom at you on the excuse of just about any topic they can seize, though there are three in particular (politics, religion and guns, not necessarily in that order) that are just about guaranteed to generate fireworks. Coincidentally, those are probably the three topics that Americans on the whole consider most vital.

We’re not talking about mere conflict, which is a healthy thing. Conflict makes us stronger, gives us direction, and ultimately solves rather than creates problems. But we get all the conflict we need (and sometimes more than we can handle, it seems) in the natural course of living. Confrontationism is the act of creating conflict artificially: attacking someone physically or verbally, not for the sake of defending your turf or accomplishing a purpose, but for the sake of sheer antagonism.

Mind you, there’s really nothing new about any of this. In what is considered the world’s oldest recorded story, the epic of Gilgamesh from about 5000 years ago, the Babylonian king Gilgamesh and the wild man Enkidu engage in a head-butting, eye-clawing, mud-rolling fight to the death, such as a couple of WWE gladiators would have you believe they do. In the end, the fight is a draw and so, each impressed by the other’s ability to wage a viciously senseless donnybrook, they become the best of buds. Likewise in the medieval yarn about Robin Hood and Little John crossing the footbridge.

But this is a different world now. We can get our thrills from bungee jumping, skydiving and alligator wrestling. We can also watch other people beat each other senseless in the ring or on the football field, and blow each other to bits on the big screen. And we can indulge in all sorts of violent video games and other simulated delights.  Yet our thirst for confrontation does not seem to have abated one whit.

I rarely read online discussions about topics that are the least bit controversial, because it seldom takes more than a few exchanges for them devolve into “flame wars”.  Even on this present site, although most of its readers are a cut above average in the maturity department, there are plenty of people who try to replicate the same cafeteria food fight atmosphere they’ve seen elsewhere. But you may not be aware of it because I’m more fastidious about filtering it out than most blog moderators — I don’t want this site to become another one of those. Consequently, I just delete the attack messages unless there’s a compelling reason to publish them — e.g., they contain factual or logical errors that it would be instructive to examine.

I remember reading about a guest on one of the Fox “News” screaming fests — Bill O’Reilly’s, as I recall — and during commercial break he was advised that he was not being combative enough, so he should ramp it up.  Viewers might assume that the sparks are a by-product of debate; but they’re actually the steak rather than the sizzle.  It’s an addictive vicious cycle, with Fox etc., etc., giving the public the in-your-face clashes it craves, which in turn fuels further craving.

And it isn’t just a matter of experiencing vicarious confrontations in the media. It isn’t at all unheard of for people to get into violent, and sometimes fatal, disputes over parking spaces or other matters even more trivial. Sure, people do stupid things behind the wheel, and they might make you justifiably angry; but is that any reason to call them names, threaten them, shoot at them or follow them home?

One day I was riding my bike across an intersection on a thoroughly green light when a car whipped around the corner and nearly ran me over. Justifiably peeved, I yelled at the driver to watch where he was going; and then I went on my way. He, however, chose to take it as a personal insult that I would reprimand him for being reckless and nearly killing me, so he yelled after me angrily, calling me a “pussy” and challenging me to duke it out. I ignored him, but I could still hear him yelling for as long as I was in earshot. A similar experience occurred even more recently with the driver of a vehicle who nearly hit me when I was crossing on foot — only this time I didn’t even say anything first. The motorist just started yelling, threatening and challenging me because I dared to be in his way.

Nor is it just among strangers. Friends and relatives sometimes shout it out, slug it out or shoot it out, with the initial conflict beginning with the silliest of matters — e.g., who gets the dark meat of the Thanksgiving turkey (the actual impetus for at least one fatal family shooting I read about).

One of the strangest and most disgusting experiences I’ve had in this regard occurred back during the Bush-Cheney years, and involved a friend (or so I thought) whom I’ll call John (since that was his name). John was a very intelligent and well-read fellow who possessed several degrees in a variety of disciplines — or so he claimed at every opportunity. He was also, as I understood it, essentially a Libertarian; and thus I would not have expected that he would have been fiercely defensive about Dubya. Big Mistake.

Pursuant to some comments his wife had made on a related topic, I sent her an article describing how the present GOP in general, and the Bush administration in particular, had a habit of glossing over, if not downright throttling, scientific research that did not support their ideology. It was John, and not his wife, who replied to me, and in the most scathing terms. After first assailing the credentials and credibility of the author — with whom he admitted being unfamiliar — he ridiculed me as a scientific illiterate (after himself regurgitating the myth that scientists in the Seventies had subscribed to a global cooling model) and a believer in “conspiracy theories” (after himself suggesting that thousands of the world’s top scientists were cooking the books on climate change).

Ignoring his surprise invitation to a schoolyard pissing contest, I gently reminded him that neither I nor the writer in question had expressed a stance on any issue involved — e.g., stem cell research. The discussion, I pointed out, was about the Republican attitudes toward science, not my own. And I sincerely urged him to pass along any information on that subject that he thought I didn’t have.

Instead, he responded with more insults and unfounded speculations about my beliefs, motives and background, declaring that he couldn’t explain anything to me because I didn’t have the capacity to understand. Politely insisting that I had the utmost confidence that a man of his talents could summarize recent political developments in such a way that even I could grasp them, I asked him again to clarify why he felt the criticism of the administration was unwarranted. Which just prompted even more insults and bizarre assumptions.

The upshot was that after three or four exchanges like this, John announced that he was terminating our friendship and wouldn’t read anything else I sent him. It was entirely his decision — I’d always enjoyed talking with him even though his pomposity had been evident from the start. In his last message to me, he said it was time for the “Monty Python Solution”. It wasn’t a reference to Argument Clinic; it was a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which one combatant gets all his limbs whacked off by the other, and agrees to “call it a draw”.

Let me emphasize that at no time did I return any of John’s puerile insults.  At no time did I challenge his opinions or express any of my own. I didn’t even correct any of his factual errors, although he certainly committed a few. Yet in his mind, we had engaged in a clash of Gilgamesh-Enkidu proportions, which he of course had won with his diplomas tied behind him.

I wish I could say that this incident was unique, but alas, it isn’t. Just recently, there was something eerily similar with a longtime reader of this blog who in the past had been a valuable contributor to discussions on the forum. But he apparently decided that it would be more fun to indulge in “automatic gainsaying”. He became obsessed with trying to discredit me about something, anything — even if it meant putting words in my mouth or contradicting his own. Among other things, he played three of the most common attack games: ad hominem (shooting the messenger, a la John), tu quoque (“you’re a hypocrite who commits the same offenses you criticize others for”) and what I call psychic psychoanalysis (“You may say X but you really mean Y because you secretly believe Z”).

I’d seen all of this before, so many times that it made my eyes roll; and normally I’d just ignore it. But because this reader had made comments of substance in the past, I thought I’d try being patient with him, and made some short replies to him to the effect that if he would be patient, he would see that his assumptions were off track. Big mistake. Lesson learned. He just interpreted my lenience as an invitation to attack further, and became so desperate to find a reason to snap at me that he offered wild — and wildly inaccurate — predictions about what I was going to write in the future so he could attack his own predictions.

I mention these two episodes because they illustrate four important points about confrontationism. First,  it’s essentially a proactive rather than reactive mindset. Confrontationists may claim that their nastiness is a response to something that someone else has said or done, but it’s usually an aggression rather than a defense; and to the extent that it may be a response at all, it’s usually vastly overblown and altogether inappropriate. John and the reader may have convinced themselves that they were arguing with me about something or other, but the former was arguing against a straw man, and the latter against himself.

Second, while attacks like these are generally, to quote Ambrose Bierce, “merely stupid, although a few add the distinction of silliness”, one can’t always chalk them up to ignorance or ineptitude. John and my reader were both rather bright and very well-educated fellows; clearly, then, their combativeness was a matter of calculated intent rather than unwitting default. Hell, maybe even the two drivers I mentioned were brilliant guys.

Third, they all indeed were guys — and it would be hard to imagine otherwise. Confrontationism is unmistakably linked to the Y chromosome. There are certainly exceptions, of course. In the verbal arena at least, Ann Coulter can Hulk-Hogan with the worst of them. And in peer pressure settings — e.g., schools — there very well might be as many female bullies as male bullies, verbally if not physically. But in the vast majority of cases, this is a behavior mode that goes with being male, not female. Which suggests that maybe one cause might be body chemistry or cultural conditioning. There’s a reason verbal assailants so often use “pussy” as an insult (“dick” is also sometimes pejoratively, but the contexts are very different.) And it’s interesting to note that John’s first vicious missive included a demand that if, in the future, I had any reading matter to send his wife, I instead should send it to him for screening.

The fourth and most important point is that these confrontations are counterproductive and stifling.  As you can see (I hope) the antagonism that these two gentlemen chose to vent toward me totally quashed any chance for fruitful dialog. And that, mind you, is the best-case scenario. Quite often, as we’ve mentioned, such incidents escalate into pointless violence.

Does confrontationism serve any useful purpose at all? It’s difficult to see what that might be, aside from its cathartic value — which, as we’ve noted, can be satisfied through other means. It’s possible that some people use it, even if subconsciously, as a way to test the mettle of a potential ally. It’s possible that if I’d been as nasty toward John as he was toward me, he would have had a great deal more respect for me. Even so, it’s just not worth it as far as I’m concerned. If I have to kick someone in the crotch to win their respect, they’re probably not the kind of person I’d want to deal with anyway.

Many people seem to think confrontationism is really cool and empowering. For my part, I just wish I could make it go away. But I can’t. And it won’t.

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 any 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.

Reactions to the Reaction Against Rush’s Reactionism

Let’s be clear: it surely would be much better if everyone just ignored Rush Limbaugh and others like him. Like an insecure brat, his modus operandi is to grab attention by being as obnoxious as possible, and it’s probably a mistake to reinforce that behavior with protests. But some people are protesting in the wake of his latest display of tastelessness, and other people (Rush’s “dittohead” supporters) are responding to that response as they always do: with certain predictable, tried and true catchphrases.

Catchphrase # 1: “Suppressing Free Speech”

It’s hard to believe that there could be so many people out there who truly don’t understand the difference between suppressing free speech and holding people accountable for their actions. But apparently ’tis the case. They just can’t seem to bend their brains around the simple fact that freedom of expression encompasses the right to express displeasure with childish behavior- and to vote with one’s pocketbook. Neither the First Amendment nor the right of free speech in general affords people the guarantee that they can say anything they damn well please. There are laws against defamation, for example; and if Limbaugh hasn’t crossed that line, he at least has balanced precariously on the brink, many many times.

Suppression of free speech would mean, for instance, the government shutting off his microphone or passing a law prohibiting him from making an ass of himself in public. Or maybe someone mounting a high-tech assault on his website. Instead, what’s happening is that the public is using its consumer clout to pressure Rush’s sponsors to dump him unless he cleans up his act.

That’s a time-honored strategy that has been employed by citizens of all persuasions. One of the most notable instances occurred in 2003 when CBS had planned to air the miniseries The Reagans, but after howls of protest from The Cult Of Ron Worship because the series was less than adulatory, the network instead shuffled it off to Showtime. It’s the kind of “free market” social dynamic the dittoheads devoutly revere. Unless, of course, they find themselves on the short end of it. They objected to The Reagans because it portrayed a handful of people in a manner they considered “inaccurate”. (A Hollywood flick, inaccurate? Who woulda thunk it?) People are objecting to Rush Limbaugh because he portrays numerous people in a manner that is not only inaccurate, but deliberately misleading, scurrilous and venomous.

Catchphrase # 2: “Double Standard”

But why single out poor defenseless Rush? After all, David Letterman made a joke about Sarah Palin’s “slutty flight attendant” look, and Bill Maher has also made disparaging comments about the likes of Palin and Michelle Bachmann. And Michelle Obama is appearing as a guest on Letterman.  Where’s the outrage? We have a double standard here, no?

Oh, puh-lease.

Perhaps the best response to this silliness was given by The Provocation, which observes among other things that

Maher’s a comedian by trade and both of these women are public figures. The person Limbaugh attacked, by contrast, was a private citizen simply seeking to be involved in the process of affecting government. And Limbaugh’s no comedian. He’s a political attack dog who appears to relish demeaning and defaming people.

And no, testifying before Congress did not magically transform Sandra Fluke into a celebrity- Rush did that. The article also points out that although Maher and Letterman may step over the line occasionally, with Rush it’s a continuous process and has been for years. The dittoheads are trying to pretend that the furor is all about Sandra Fluke (some have even claimed, I kid you not, that she was a shill planted by the Obama administration for the purpose of creating controversy around Limbaugh); but this incident is no mere fluke. It was just the tipping point.

I might add there is a vast difference between making a tacky joke about someone’s wardrobe and making a tasteless and protracted assault on someone’s character.

Furthermore, neither Maher nor Letterman is a spokesman for a particular ideology. Both of them have hosted as well as insulted public figures of all stripes. Maher is a professed Libertarian who actually defended Limbaugh, stating that the whole incident left “liberals looking bad”, though he didn’t quite explain the twisted logic used to arrive at that contorted conclusion.

Still, if you wanna talk about double standards, consider this: during their time in The White House, George W. Bush appeared on Rush’s program no fewer than four times and Dick Cheney no fewer than five times; Bush has appeared on at least two other occasions.  His father also appeared on the program while serving as president.  And unlike The First Lady’s casual stint on Letterman, their appearances definitely imply approval of the host’s deranged and toxic ramblings. Where was the outrage over that?

Catchphrase # 3: “Liberal Hypocrisy”

To the True Believers, all this outcry over Limbaughism can mean only one thing: them librulz are at it again. Perish the thought that Rush himself might be even slightly at fault. And the librulz picking on him is of course a supreme example of librul hypocrisy. After all, they claim to support freedom of speech (see #1 above) and they’ve exhibited double standards (see # 2) and after all, there are plenty of librul commentators who also spew out hateful invective day after day like..well… er, um… hang on, we’ll surely think of someone eventually.

In the absence of a Limbaugh of the Left, you can always attack Jane Fonda, especially since she has been outspoken about Rush’s offenses. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing her either, of course. She exercises her freedom of speech, and her critics exercise theirs. Dog bless America.  But what’s interesting is that the same people who despise her for her actions four decades ago (and for which she has long since expressed regret) often have no problem with Rush’s continuous daily actions for the past three decades or so. In rejecting Fonda’s apology about her despicable deeds in the Sixties and Seventies, the vigilant watchdogs of hypocrisy and double standards assail those who supposedly reject Limbaugh’s apology for one of his numerous despicable deeds – an apology delivered only after he saw that his paycheck might be impacted.

At least 98 major companies have decided to distance themselves not only from Rush but other incendiary talk show hosts. These include Wal-Mart, Ford, Chevrolet and Sony. To suggest that all these corporations are run by a bunch of flaming lefties would be laughable even by the usual dittohead standards of lunacy.

You don’t have to be a progressive/liberal/whatever to be turned off by Limbaughism (though that certainly appears to make it more likely). After my recent piece on Ann Coulter, I heard from Coulter Watch, which is run by a fellow named Daniel Borchers, who calls himself a “life-long conservative” and, it appears, may actually be a true conservative, as opposed to  “conservatives”  of the Limbaugh variety. Accordingly, he attempted one year to distribute information warning about Coulter to the attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference. And how did the watchdogs of hypocrisy and dual standards respond? They escorted him to the door and made it clear that he was persona non grata in the future.

With a drastically declining listener base, Rush Limbaugh needed a godsend, and he got it in the form of Sandra Fluke, whom his fans are calling “Sandra Fluck” among other unbearably clever things. They’re mad as hell that she became one of the many victims of his schoolyard taunts, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. And his detractors, along with the ever-compliant mainstream “liberal” media, have handed him just what he wanted.

Ann Slanders: A Classic Case Study

I’ll admit it: I actually read, once upon a time, Ann Coulter’s book Slander; Liberal Lies About the American Right. I had to swab my brain with Clorox afterward, but I did it. I had my reasons. And while Ann herself is no more worth discussing than any of the other vast horde of vitriolic pundits who have discovered that there are tremendous profits to be made in attacking “liberals”, this particular volume offers some fascinating  illumination of that pursuit, and of certain propaganda tactics in general.

You have to read no farther than the title to get an indication of Coulter’s degree of accuracy. Slander is a legal term for oral defamation; but if that defamation is published or otherwise issued in a transfixed form (including video and audio recordings), then the correct term is libel, and that’s what she supposedly is documenting in the great majority of cases cited in the book.  She should know better, since she’s reputedly a lawyer (if she ever represented me in court, I’d plead insanity pronto); and using the accurate word would have produced such a cute alliterative title to boot. Alas, while her inaccuracies and untruths begin with the title, they sure as hell don’t end there.

Just a couple of examples here. In discussing how some people had pointed out that George W. Bush, prior to the 2000 election, had been abroad only 3 times, she asserts that the issue didn’t come up during the 1992 election even though “Clinton’s wide travel consisted primarily of his joining antiwar protests across Europe and in Moscow during the Vietnam War.”, Actually, as a Rhodes scholar Clinton lived abroad for the better part of two years – and he didn’t exactly spend all of that time at demonstrations.

She also insists that family ties couldn’t have had an influence on George W. Bush’s university career, because at the time he enrolled at Yale, his old man was a little-known congressman fighting for political survival. Dubya’s wealthy and influential progenitors include not only George Herbert Walker Bush, but also Prescott Bush, Samuel Bush, James Smith Bush, William H.T. Bush, Robert E. Sheldon Jr. and George Herbert Walker; and all but the last named were themselves alumni of Yale. That Coulter is able to demote them all to nobody status in one fell swoop demonstrates that she is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

At other times, you’re not sure whether she’s consciously lying or just doesn’t know any better; she often just repeats right-wing talking points without any apparent concern for whether there’s any truth to them or not. She even obediently parrots a couple of oft-repeated rumors about Al Gore: that he claimed to have “invented the Internet”, and that on a tour of Monticello, he asked “Who are these guys?” when viewing busts of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. We’ve already discussed the Internet smear, along with several other legendary Gore “lies”. At Monticello, he actually said “Who are these people?”, but  he was looking at likenesses of John Paul Jones and the Marquis de Lafayette – whose visages do not appear on currency and are unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americans, including, no doubt, the venerable Ms Coulter.

But the point here is not to go into a lot of detail about her loose grip on reality. Many others have already done that. For a hilarious take on her dishonesty delivered by Al Franken during a debate with her (and her catty attempt to recover by claiming that “liberals” believe one should never “paraphrase”), see here.

As I see it, the real focus of her little masterpiece is neither slander (libel) nor distortion, but something she says early in the game:”liberals hate conservatives”. That’s her apparent thesis, and the alleged “slander” she produces is an attempt to substantiate that “liberals” lie about “conservatives” because they hate them so much.

Trying to prove that “liberals” hate “conservatives” is an obsession among many who call themselves “conservatives”. And they often blur the distinctions between (a) criticizing someone, (b) attacking someone in an uncivil manner, and (c) actually hating someone. There was a great deal of blurring recently when right-wing slime merchant Andrew Breitbart died, and some less-than-kind comments about his demise were posted on Internet forums. These comments were understandable even if not excusable; the passing of a polarizing figure always inspires a certain number of inappropriate remarks by anonymous individuals. And while in this case the imprecations were touted as proof of “liberal hate”, the truth is that such conduct spans the ideological spectrum.  But those in the public eye, and especially in influential positions, usually speak well of the recently deceased, or not at all.

If anyone has a right to heap invective on Breitbart, it’s Shirley Sherrod, whose career he wrecked with one of the notoriously fraudulent videos he distributed. But when pressed by the media to comment, she avoided saying anything directly about him, instead just noting:

“The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”

That’s the kind of thing mature adults say, and no doubt even ol’ Andrew himself would have been equally gracious about the death of someone he didn’t like.

Oops. Actually, on the occasion of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, Breitbart declared:

“I’m more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified,”

and further called Kennedy a “villain”, a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick”. So never mind.

Still, the thing is there’s another distinction that often gets blurred: the difference between attacking an individual and attacking a demographic. Not everyone who hates President Obama is racist (though certainly a good many at least border on that description). But this is a distinction that Coulter cannot or will not make. Over and over, she tries to prove that “liberals hate conservatives” by citing attacks by specific “liberals” against specific individuals who happen to be “conservative”.

So there I sat, pen in hand, eager to tally up all the instances she produced to substantiate the allegation that “liberals” hate “conservatives” in general. And after slogging through the whole tome, I’d counted a grand total of…4. Yes, FOUR. And even those were rather dubious.

One of them, for instance, came from Jesse Jackson:

“In South Africa, the status quo was called racism. In Germany, it was called fascism. Now, in Britain and the U.S., it is called conservatism.”

Is this really an expression of hatred? I wouldn’t necessarily say so, especially knowing what I do about Jackson. Nor is it really equating “conservatism” with fascism or racism, though it certainly suggests that all are an undesirable “status quo”. But here we see yet another line that often gets blurred: the distinction between condemning an “ism” and condemning those who adhere to it. If you’ve read very much by Michael Moore or Al Franken, you know that they certainly do their share of condemning “conservatism” as well as specific “conservatives”. But they also have bent over backward to find reasons to praise “conservatives” in general. Can you say the same about civility toward “liberals” by Ann Coulter? Or Rush Limbaugh? Or Glenn Beck? Or Sean Hannity? Or – well, you get the idea.

Well, if this is the best she can come up with, we’ll give it to her. Four instances of “liberals” hating “conservatives”. Very good.

Now you might think my pen got awfully bored with only four hash marks to make during the whole book. Bur fear not – I was also keeping another tally at the same time. I was curious to see how many times the author herself expressed hatred toward “liberals” in general. And the answer was a minimum of 163. Yes, ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE, nearly once per page on average. And I say “minimum” because I was very strict in what I counted, excluding questionable slurs and sometimes even multiple slurs within the same sentence.

And unlike the alleged slurs by “liberals” there is nothing the least bit ambiguous or ambivalent about hers. “Liberals” are liars.“Liberals” are nasty. “Liberals” are hypocrites. “Liberals” are un-American. “Liberals” love abortion. “Liberals” are greedy. “Liberals” are unprincipled. “Liberals” are anti-religion. “Liberals” are stupid. “Liberals” are “savagely cruel bigots” who “lie for sport”. “Liberals” hate “ordinary” Americans. “Liberals” are communists—no, wait, “liberals” are actually fascists. (Self-contradiction, even in the same breath, doesn’t seem to be a problem for her.)

But if you expect her to explain exactly what a “liberal” is, you’re SOL. In fact, she suggests that the surest way to know you’re dealing with a “liberal” is that someone questions the term. This unswerving loyalty to labels, however, does not prevent her from questioning the term “religious right”, and even suggesting – I kid you not – that “there’s no such thing”.

So, to summarize the book: “Liberals” (whatever they may be, and you shouldn’t ask) have produced four possible slurs against “conservatives”. Ann Coulter (who is only one of many many many many many ideologues attacking “liberals”) has produced at least 163 very definite slurs against “liberals”. And from this we’re supposed to conclude that “liberals hate conservatives”.

Good one, Ann.

Michael Moore’s Bum Rap

“The most hated man in America” is how Michael Moore describes himself in his new book Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life. This self-characterization is not an exaggeration. For a time at least, there was probably more hatred directed toward him -from “patriotic” Americans – than toward Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein combined. A good indication is that during the 2004 election season, someone pointed out to him that while there had been one film released that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, there had been no fewer than six attacking him. The assault on his reputation is a superb illustration of just how successful a propaganda juggernaut can be.

The most intense period of hatred, to which he specifically alludes, is the few months following his 2003 speech accepting an Oscar for “Bowling With Columbine”.  Inviting his fellow nominees to join him onstage (they all accepted), he denounced George W. Bush’s “war” in Iraq. It was obviously a tense moment, because the usually eloquent and unflappable Moore slipped grammatically, saying “fictition” for “fiction” (he’d just used the word “fictitious”), sounding for the moment as linguistically inept as the politician he was referencing.

The reaction, as he recounts in the book, was immediate and WAAAAAY over the top. He arrived back home to find that loads of manure had been dumped in his driveway and signs posted warning him to leave the country. During the ensuing months, he was constantly subjected to threats, harassment and actual physical attacks.

Part of the explanation is that the Bush administration had done an excellent job of exploiting the 9-11 attack for political advantage, invoking it to justify everything from tax cuts for the wealthy to domestic drilling for oil. As Bush himself repeatedly reminded us, we were either with him or we were with the “terrists”. And a large portion of the American public, eager to be angry at someone, bought into it. Anyone who dared question the nation’s leader in even the smallest detail was likely to be branded as anti-American. (My, how times have changed.)

But that’s only part of the equation. Moore was a favorite tar baby of demagoguery even before the Oscar speech, and has continued to be so long after his vindication by the exposure of the Bush gang’s deceptions. As we’ve previously noted, the propaganda technique we call flag-waving requires right-wing extremists to condemn as unpatriotic anyone who does not support their positions. Moore certainly fills the bill, as he frequently criticizes Republicans and Randians. Apparently, he doesn’t even earn any grace points from the fact that he also often criticizes Democrats.

The official spin is that Michael Moore is himself an ideological extremist, a loose cannon, a venomous  polemicist – he has been called, for example, the “Ann Coulter of the Left.”  But nothing could be farther from the truth. Ann Coulter, and just about any other right-wing pundit you can name, revels in ad hominem smears and blanket demonizing of entire groups of fellow citizens – most notably Democrats and “liberals” (the latter often spat upon but seldom if ever defined). I challenge you to find a single example of Moore doing any of this. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

(La, de da, dum de dumm. Hmmmm ho ho…..)

Okay, I’m tired of waiting. Get back to me if you find one.

Moore never even returns in kind the vicious assaults leveled at him. He formerly aspired to become a priest; and unlike many other Christians, he actually practices what Jesus preached – even those annoying little bits about, um, loving your enemies and turning the other cheek.

One of the most vituperative of Moore-bashing websites, moorewatch.com (now apparently defunct) was operated by a fellow who’d harbored an obsessive hatred of Moore for years. When he announced to his readers that the site might go under because he was overwhelmed by his wife’s medical bills, Moore – then working, appropriately enough on “Sicko” – sent him an anonymous donation of $12, 000 so he could go on exercising his First Amendment right to spout hatred. Which he did.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, USA Today took an interesting approach to balanced coverage by hiring Michael Moore to cover the Republican convention (where John McCain made a point of singling him out so the crowd could boo him) and Jonah Goldberg of the ever-entertaining National Review to cover the Democratic convention. (Some day I must tell you about my own amusing brush with Goldberg.)

Moore was up first, and anyone expecting him to indulge in juvenile name-calling against either the convention’s attendees or George W. Bush was sorely disappointed. In fact, he made a point of complimenting Bush as a person, praising him in particular for his apparent success as a parent. His disapproval, then as always, was based on one thing: the man had done a miserable job at the position to which he’d been appointed, and should be replaced. Nothing personal.

Then came Goldberg’s turn, and not surprisingly he painted Democrats with a broad brush as corrupt, incompetent and evil. And of course took an obligatory swipe at Moore.

Taking swipes at Michael Moore, indeed, has become a very profitable industry, and a folkloric image of him has been constructed as a hypocritical, anti-American, socialist, manipulative, grandstanding moron and/or mastermind. Oh yes, and there must always, always be a schoolyard reference to his girth.

In 2008, a group of Hollywood Republicans, all five of them, made a film called “An American Carol” that was intended to be an agitprop spoof of Michael Moore and his work. (Insert comment here about Republicans being habitually a few years behind the times.) The flick often featured such side-splitting humor as the main character, representing Moore, getting whacked in the face. Stop it, guys, you’re cracking me up. Even if its approach to comedy hadn’t been so puerile, it was doomed from the get-go because it was founded on the premise that “Michael Moore hates America” – which, I kid you not, was the actual title of another movie. When asked about his reaction to “An American Carol”, Moore just good-naturedly replied, “I hope it’s funny”.

In the 2005 book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, Bernard Goldberg (no relation to Jonah, astonishingly enough) lists 100 people (actually a lot more than that, since some of the people are actually groups of people, but what’s a little mathematical imprecision when you have an important statement to make) who, by challenging his beliefs, are destroying his country. Perhaps the most amusing inclusion is Eve Ensler, playwright of “The Vagina Monologues”, which uses the word “vagina” too much for Goldberg’s taste and by talking too much about people who have them, displays an anti-male, and therefore anti-American, bias. Guess who takes the honored spot of public enemy number one in his tome? If Goldberg hates Michael Moore, then Moore must hate America.

With all the propaganda directed at Moore, it’s natural to ask whether he himself is a propagandist by our preferred definition – i.e., whether he deliberately deceives in order to persuade. The short answer, Internet rumors notwithstanding, is no. But it’s a fair question, and we’ll take a more detailed look in the future. The point for now is that he sets a supreme example of civility in an age when it’s an uncommon commodity; and it would be hard to find a public figure having a greater discrepancy between media image and actual character.

(Posted, ironically enough, on Columbus Day – when Americans honor and glorify a greedy, ruthless, murderous conqueror who was also an incompetent navigator  who went to his grave never even realizing that he’d bumbled into a different continent.)

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, the Oklahoma City bomber 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 commentators 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.