Reactions to Boston: The Good, the Bad, and the Batshit Loony

Bombing Victim Jeff Bauman

Bombing Victim Jeff Bauman

A senseless act of violence (or a tragedy if you will) like the Boston Marathon bombing has a way of bringing out the best in most people. A wounded veteran of combat in Afghanistan comforted an injured woman, showing her his scars and assuring her that she would survive. An intern who had just finished a 14-hour hospital shift pitched right in and began treating the wounded. Hundreds of local residents rushed from their homes to supply water and first aid, sometimes using their belts for tourniquets.

Unfortunately, such an incident also brings out the worst in some people. For the right-wing fanatics, every such occasion is a golden opportunity to do what they live for: spread hate, divisiveness and paranoia — and try to score political points by taking cheap shots at President Obama and “liberals”.  Part of the spin after this particular incident was to declare that Obama is irresponsible and incompetent with national security because he allowed 3 Americans to be killed in a terrorist strike on American soil — while Bush kept us safe because he allowed only 3000 to be killed.

These folks can’t  even display enough respect for the victims or  basic human decency to wait a few hours before launching into attack mode; they start cranking out the venom as soon as the news breaks. Nothing is more important than giving voice to their irrational,  deranged, all-consuming hatred for the guy in the White House and anyone who might possibly like him even a little bit.

Naturally, guns always figure in the mix. Right on cue after Sandy  Hook, the gun lobby went into “it could have happened with a nail file” mode,  making puerile smears against anyone who dared challenge the supremacy of the almighty gun. The ever-entertaining National Review characterized Gabrielle Giffords’ outrage over the NRA’s grip on Congress as “childish” and “an embarrassment”.  The general attitude among right-wing reactionaries toward shooting victims is that by making their voice heard they are “bullies” and “props” of the Obama administration who have no business getting involved in the discussion over guns. And while the grief in Newtown was still raw, the NRA displayed its usual classiness by targeting the community with pro-gun robocalls and other propaganda.

But the attack in Boston wasn’t a shooting. So there was no reason to even bring up guns, eh? Do you really thing they’d let a little thing like that stop them? Sure, it took Wayne LaPierre a couple of weeks to proclaim that we obviously need more guns to protect us from pressure cookers —  to invoke the bombing in incendiary pro-gun rhetoric, and to exploit violence for personal gain, while accusing the proponents of “gun control” of doing the same, of course. (In case you didn’t know, when the president responds to gun violence by supporting measures to prevent it from occurring it again, that’s called political grandstanding and suppressing freedom; when the gun lobby exploits violence to whip up paranoia and increase profits, it’s called defending liberty. Everybody clear?)

But not to worry, Arkansas legislator Nate Bell took up the slack for LaPierre’s excessive delay. While authorities were in pursuit of the attackers, he Tweeted:

I  wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?

This understandably sparked a great deal of outrage, especially among Bostonians.  Some of the responses were as crude as his comment solicited. Others were more sophisticated. My favorite was this:

I invite you to Boston. So you can witness true toughness, compassion and humanity. Toughest city on earth. No guns required.

That’s the Boston I know and love. Incidentally Bell, unlike others of his breed, at least had the decency to issue a half-assed apology — not for the “content” but for the “timing”. In other words, it appears he still believes that anyone who doesn’t hide behind a hunk of metal is “cowering”, but he realizes he didn’t select the most tactful possible time to say so.

Immediately after the bombing,  right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham seized the opportunity to ratchet up the hysteria over immigration, and Fox contributor Erik Rush suggested of Muslims, “Let’s kill them all.” Mind you, both of these responses were delivered before ANYTHING was known about the suspects.  After the suspects were identified, and one of the alleged bombers and three of his acquaintances were discovered to be students at University Of Massachusetts-Dartmouth,  Bill O’Reilly concluded that there must be a “huge problem” with the school itself.

The Westboro Baptist Church also weighed in, blaming the violence on Obama, abortion and gays. Makes perfect sense if you snort gunpowder and Bibles long enough.  At least a couple of right-wing gun fanatics declared that “liberals” love it when things like this happen. (If anybody “loves” it, it would have to be the people who seek occasions to make idiotic utterances like that.) And that dear old radio personality whose name rhymes with mush  concluded that the bombers were obviously influenced by the “liberal elite intellectual thought” in Boston. Can’t allow any of that intellectual thought, it’s quite dangerous — among other things, it might damage his ratings.

In fact, it appears the terrorists were influenced by rabidly right-wing slime merchant Alex Jones, whose tin hat delusions have been mainstreamed by Republicans in Congress (not the first time a terrorist has been a fan of his). Jones, who is gifted with an extraordinary capacity to find a sinister conspiracy in every leaf and snowflake, didn’t disappoint this time around.  Within MINUTES of the news from Boston, he was Tweeting things like this:

Our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed #Boston marathon – but this thing stinks to high heaven #falseflag

Explosions at the Boston Marathon. Don’t that the FBI [sic] has been behind virtually every domestic terror plot in the US, as NY Times reported.

A false flag, in case you’re still unfamiliar with the term after all the batting about it’s been getting in the last few years,  is an incident in which a government attacks its own people (or even an individual fakes an attack on himself/ herself) in order to cast blame on someone else.  It has become an automatic response among the Alex Joneses of the world to declare that any terrorist attack, any disaster, any act of mass violence must have been staged by the Obama administration for some reason or other. The existence of emergency preparedness drills that utilize “crisis actors” is all the proof these folks need that the victims of actual disasters are merely faking it. There are people out there who believe that nobody really died in Boston, in Newtown, in Aurora, or even in the World Trade Center. And whenever you encounter such an individual,  the odds are excellent that he’ll be a fawning fan of Alex Jones.

It’s also an excellent bet that he’ll be a big fan of Alex’s chief rival for the Kool-Aid Crown, Glenn Beck — who also was true to form.  He declared not only that Obama was behind the bombing, but that he was shielding a Saudi who had carried out the deed at his behest. Furthermore, the Beckster gave the president an ultimatum to come clean by April 22, or else he would “expose” the administration big time. Don’t look now, Glenn, but April 22 has quietly come and gone, and you still haven’t exposed anyone but yourself — and most Americans are really wishing you’d zip it back up. By the way, don’t you and AJ even talk to each other enough to get your stories straight? Did the president orchestrate a real attack or a hoax? Sheesh!

Granted, some people also suspected initially that the culprits were connected with a radical Tea Party faction. (I was among them, but I exercised the discretion not to voice that suspicion in public.) After all, the attack occurred on tax day, and one of the primary objectives of the Tea Party is, supposedly, to protest taxes. It occurred in Boston, site of the real Tea Party. And Tea Party rhetoric tends to be incendiary, and often is laced with subtle and not-so-subtle exhortations to violence.  These are all solid facts, not just “evidence” pulled out of the ass of someone who’s been fed a steady diet of ideological frenzy. In any case, there’s a difference between entertaining suspicions and turning them into presumptions, paranoia, propaganda and perfidy.

The most sickening trope to make the rounds, for my money at least, concerned Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs to terrorism. The wingers circulated a graphic photo of him at the scene, falsely identifying him as a vet who’d lost his limbs in combat, and suggesting that he’d been fitted with prosthetics that day so he could add a touch of realism to the elaborate hoax. (As Snopes mentions, it’s a common tactic among perpetrators of such rumors to find a Person B who bears a superficial resemblance to Person A, and declare that they’re one and the same.)

In our own universe, however, Bauman’s legs were intact until April 15. But he did become a hero of sorts by assisting in the identification of the suspects. Heavily medicated in the hospital, and unable to speak, he nonetheless grabbed pen and paper and scribbled a note to indicate that he had seen one of the bombers. and the information he provided proved useful in zeroing in on the alleged terrorists.

This, surely, is Boston at its best. It’s what men like Jeff Bauman do while other people are using him as a prop to circulate nutty rumors about the president. And demonstrating their “patriotism” by venting their obsessive loathing for half of their fellow Americans.

Propaganda Prop #3: Bible-Thumping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Bad Actor Enters New Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE HELD IT IN HIS HANDS???

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

It’s truly bad acting at its finest.

Authentic Discourse, Even If We Have To Fake It

Premiere Mouthpiece

If you’ve spent a lot of time listening to radio talk shows (in which case you might want to consider getting a life), then you’ve almost certainly noticed that callers to such programs who mimic the viewpoints expressed by the host almost invariably are poised and articulate, while those who demur sound as if they were tutored in English and forensics by George W. Bush. The hosts themselves like to credit this to the “fact” that ideological fanatics (of their stripe only) are highly intelligent and informed, while dissenters are yokels and yahoos. But as you may have noticed, the hosts themselves don’t bear out this assertion with their own kooky babblings.

The actual explanation is that such programs have call screeners who are highly selective in whom they allow on the air. Although sometimes, an articulate and intelligent dissenter will somehow slip through the cracks.

But now it seems there is an additional explanation. Inspired, perhaps, by George Orwell, or George W. Bush (whose administration planted phony journalists to lob softball questions to him at media conferences), and drawing on a long history of ideological TV talk shows hiring wildly supportive audience members, these programs have been recruiting actors to call in and impersonate John Q.Public on the air.

As reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates (among others) Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, has been offering its clients a service called Premiere On Call, which provides them with scripted callers to make their fans sound really with it. Note that this is peddled as a way to offer a more “authentic” broadcast. Since this scheme came to light, the service apparently has gone underground, but as of this writing you can still fill out a request to audition for them.

So hey, if you have any voice talent, why not go on the air and call the president a socialist/Nazi/commie/terrorist/atheist/Muslim/Martian. Somebody’s gonna do it, so it might as well be you, and you might as well make some bucks on it.

What Would We Do Without Hitler?

Goebbels with his boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Propaganda Prop # 2: Flag Waving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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