The Real Lesson of the Midterms?

midterms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fact-Free Politics

Politicians as a rule are not known for being terribly honest and above-board, at least not since Lincoln went theatrical, but this year the Republican Party has made a furious effort to out-Guinness every other dishonest political campaign in history.

Now it hardly surprises anyone when a political campaign attacks the record of the opposition, or even when it indulges in a little spin and distortion to do so.  That’s what political campaigns do. That’s what conventions do. But the best the GOP could come up with this year was an actor debating an empty chair — and losing.  Other than that, their campaign surely will be remembered for its bold, unprecedented, ark-floating deluge level of mendacity.

When it comes to propaganda, Democrats are at kindergarten level, while the GOP has amassed a stack of doctorates. And this season, even by its usual standards,  the elephant parade has shattered the meter and blown the ceiling off.

Tweedledee But Tweedledumber

Many will “defend” the type of dishonesty the GOP has displayed by pointing out that Democrats lie too. Well, sure.  None of us will ever forget “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. But there’s a big difference between making a friend of fibbing and make a foe of fact.

To hear Republicans tell it, it was a major lie for The First Lady to characterize her husband’s grandmother as a “bank secretary”, as she eventually worked her way up to vice president.  (Whoa! Really broke Pinocchio’s nose on that one, didn’t she?) And then there’s the Democrats’ claim that the Obama administration has created 4.5 million jobs. That figure is indeed a bit misleading, because it’s not a net sum for his entire term. They started the meter after the horrendous economic downturn he inherited had bottomed out. So it does qualify as spin, but it’s by no means an outright lie.

It is an outright lie, however, to say that Obama is a Muslim. Or that he’s Kenyan. Or that he’s a socialist. Or that he “hates America”. Or that he “apologized” for America. Or that he has raised your taxes (unless you’re among the ultra-wealthy). Or that he wants to eliminate the work requirements for welfare. Or that he’s increased the deficit to an exceptional degree. Or that he wants to eliminate early voting for military personnel. Or that he bailed out the banks.  Or that he promised unemployment below 8 percent.

Yet these and many others have been repeated as fact by the GOP contenders and their allies; some of them have even been articulated from the convention podium —  from which Romney even threw a bone to the dopey fact-shunning cult that increasingly makes up the backbone of his party by taking a dig at the president’s expressed concern over global warming.  And in doing so, incidentally, he misquoted the president yet again.

Building Deception

You had an inkling the GOP was going to pile up the elephant manure sky-high when it adopted as the de facto slogan of the convention (if not the entire campaign) a deliberate misinterpretation of a quote from the president.  “You didn’t build that” has become the new “I invented the Internet” (a statement never made by another politician who was also the target of a massive no-holds-barred gotcha operation.)

Well, the president was indeed guilty of using a misplaced antecedent, which conclusively proves that he’s human (and that, contrary to another persistent right-wing myth, he isn’t hooked up intravenously to a teleprompter). But it’s a minor syntactical slip, not a major misstatement of ideology; the meaning is still clear enough to anyone who bothers to read the statement in its entirety.

But Romney’s Rangers aren’t interested in getting his real drift. They want something they can twist as grotesquely as possible and slap him in the face with — and hit the public over the head with — as often as possible.

Nor is the willful misrepresentation of Obama’s intent the only dishonest thing about the “We Built It” meme; the Republicans also tried to portray themselves as Randian superbeings who have achieved stunning success without benefiting from government programs or the efforts of other people in general — never mind that this contradicts Mitt Romney’s own previous comments, almost identical to President Obama’s, on that subject. They did this posturing in a government-owned convention facility built with tax dollars. The convention itself was financed with the aid of $18 million in taxes, and the Republican Party received $50 million in government grants for convention security.

They were meeting in Tampa to nominate a presidential candidate who has amassed a fortune with a helping hand from government subsidies and grants, and a vice presidential candidate whose family for several generations actually was involved in building those roads the president spoke of…under government contract.  The convention also featured a prominent speech from Delaware business owner (and Republican political candidate) Sher Valenzuela, touting the virtues of independent enterprise, free of all government influence, that Obama allegedly loathes and wants to squelch. Not only has Valenzuela accepted some $17 million in government funds, she has urged other small business owners to do likewise.

Meanwhile, in nearby Louisiana, GOP governor Bobby Jindal also joined in the “conservative” mantra of “government evil — give me money”,  complaining because the Obama administration supposedly didn’t deliver enough in government handouts (as these folks like to call them when somebody else gets them) with the onslaught of Hurricane Isaac — even though the administration in fact followed all appropriate protocols, earning praise from the state’s two senators (one a Republican) and corresponding almost exactly to the response George W. Bush gave to Hurricane Gustav — without complaint from Jindal. Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Lying on Auto Pilot

One of the more egregious and head-scratching comments from the candidates came from V.P. nominee Paul Ryan, speaking at the convention about an automobile factory in Wisconsin:

Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008.Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

He’s clearly suggesting that the plant’s closure was due to the president’s failure to deliver on a “promise” he never made, even though the decision to shutter the facility was made before Obama was even elected. (And Ryan has made similar claims about this on at least one previous occasion.) Hey, if  Obama can travel back in time 50 years to plant a phony birth announcement in a Hawaii newspaper, he certainly can rescue an auto plant retroactively.

When he was called on this later, he defended himself by saying:

What I was saying is, the president ought to be held to account for his broken promises. After our plant was shut down, he said he would lead efforts to retool plants like the Janesville Plant. It’s still idle. My point was not to lay blame on a plant shutdown, but this is yet another example of the president’s broken promises.

Oh. So it really wasn’t (then) Senator Obama’s fault, but it’s still an example of his “broken promises”. Got it. But wait a minute. Surely Ryan isn’t suggesting that the prez should offer some kind of government assistance to private industry. Whatever happened to “We built it on our own, by god, without any stinkin’ guvmint”? What Ryan wants you to believe, in other words, is that his statement was actually intended to undermine the leitmotiv of his entire party’s convention. Ryan, by the way, also requested funds for his district made available by the Affordable Care Act (you know, “Obamacare”), which he has vowed to demolish.  Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. And damned if these people even know the difference.

But it isn’t just that Republicans are spinning lies and distortions and hypocrisies in record numbers; they’ve also developed an arrogant rejection of fact, and an utter disdain if not downright loathing for anyone who tries to set the record straight. Responding to one of the Romney camp’s lies, one of his pollsters said “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” And their actions indicate that they very much mean it.

And they have plenty of media defenders who will stand up for their right to ignore facts. A certain perennially flatulent talk show host whose name rhymes with lush, in commenting on the criticism of Ryan’s convention speech, referred to the “bogus fact-checkers”  and “drive-by media”.  Breitbart.com (the man is gone but his brilliant legacy lives on) declared, under the heading “Era of Media Fact Checkers Intimidating Republicans is Over” that “It’s official; the term ‘fact checker’ is now a punchline.” Anyone who challenges GOP whoppers is obviously “shilling for Obama” — never mind that the same fact-checkers critique statements made by Democrats.

Even the more mainstream media (you know, the “drive-by” gang) tends to use weasel words in challenging the falsehoods: “perceived inaccuracies”, “factual shortcuts”, “questionable claims”, “some say”, “according to the fact checkers”, etc.

Welcome to the brave new world envisioned by Republicans where reality is negotiable and facts are disposable. One shudders to contemplate a Romney administration as contemptuous of truth as his campaign has been.

ACORNization: Putting It All Together

Okay, okay. Enough of O’Keefe and Breitbart and all the other ACORNizers who prey on media sensationalism and public gullibility. Attention is what they’re really after, and we’re not going to give them any more of it. Well, at least until the next “scandal” they brew up.

But your Professor Of Propaganda wouldn’t be doing his duty if he didn’t extract something of value from all of this. So here is a summary of lessons learned from ACORNization thus far. Pay close attention, and duplicate these steps if you want to create a stir, get your name in the news and – of course – advance an extremist ideology.

1. Choose a target. The best ones are organizations which, for some reason real or imagined, arouse the hatred of right-wingers. NPR. Planned Parenthood. ACORN.  NAACP. Those bases have been covered already. But there’s still a wide-open field: National Endowment for the Arts, any union, and PETA, for instance. And hey, does anyone know how to sneak into the United Nations?

2. Practice deviousness. In other words, learn how to video someone without their knowledge. But wait, isn’t that highly illegal and unethical? Of course. Next.

3. Decide on an agenda. In other words, what kind of unsavory label do you want to attach to this organization? Immoral? Racist? Unconscionable? The sky’s the limit; it doesn’t have to be accurate or even logical. Because there is absolutely nothing so kooky that people won’t believe it. (Especially if you can attach the word Obama to it somehow.)

4. Make the calls. On some false pretext or other, visit representatives of your chosen organization, pretending to be a real jerk (which need not be a great stretch), knowing that some of your targets will humor you. Make as many visits as you need to in order to get the damning responses you  wish; and remember, it won’t take that many. The great thing about playing to an audience of ideologues (which includes a large segment of the American public) is that they will accept isolated cases as proof of broad generalizations. And if you don’t get the responses you seek, don’t despair. Just move on to the next step.

5. Dice and splice. The real art of ACORNization lies (double meaning intended) in the editing. If you’ve done much interviewing at all, you should have enough words from your victims that you can chop, stitch, mangle and rearrange until you can make them say anything. And remember that sometimes just leaving out part of a conversation can make all the difference in the world.

6. Distribute. There will always be an eager market for your product. The  media will always embrace any propaganda that casts a shadow on any organization or individual perceived as “liberal”, without bothering to check out its credibility first.  (That must be why they call it the librul media. But that’s another story.) Eventually, your fraud will be exposed, but by then you will have accomplished your mission. And even after that, Fox “News” will continue trumpeting your virtues indefinitely.

7. Lather, rinse, repeat.