Circular Firing Squad; the Gun Culture’s Curious Campaign of Irony, Hypocrisy, Contradiction and Self-Abasement

Let’s be clear: most gun owners are (to the best of my knowledge) rather sane and reasonable individuals. But the public forum has never been dominated by sanity or reason. Instead, it’s dominated by those who are the loudest and most obnoxious; thus, gun issues are perennially represented by what we call the gun culture —  meaning those to whom guns are not only important, but are a way of life. It’s a relatively small cult, but its members are mad as hell about… well, something. Always. They’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re confrontational, and — quite often — they’re self-sabotaging and downright cannibalistic.

I probably don’t have to tell you how they reacted when the President of the United States uttered the following:

“While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.And “Certain forms of ammunition have no legitimate sporting, recreational, or self-defense use and thus should be prohibited.”

And you surely can guess how they screeched when the head of the nation’s foremost gun control organization declared this:

“I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons… I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

“Nazi”? “Communist”? “Terrorist”? “Frenchman”? Actually, it might surprise you to learn that they said none of these things. I tricked you. The president quoted above wasn’t Barack H. Obama, but Ronald W. Reagan.  That’s right: The Gipper was an outspoken, if not entirely consistent, advocate of “gun control”, even before he had a personal stake in it.  (And incidentally, in the photo above, taken just before he was shot, he’s surrounded by armed and highly trained gunmen whose sole responsibility is his safety. Which casts a very long shadow of doubt on the gunsters’ prime tenet that surrounding yourself with fire power necessarily makes you safer.)

This is a cause of considerable cognitive dissonance among gunsters, many of whom desperately want to paint the debate over guns as a “liberal” vs. “conservative” conflict, and to peg  “gun control” as being a matter of “them librulz want to take away our guns, but I’m gonna fight off a whole army of them.” But in fact many “liberals” (specifically, about 25 percent of Democrats) own guns and many “conservatives” support “gun control” — even those measures pushed by President Obama, whom they’ve been conditioned to oppose at every turn. This despite the fact that some polls frame the issue as  “gun control” versus “the right to own guns”, which is a bullshit stacked-deck question — the two are by no means mutually exclusive.

Michael Moore is a lifetime member of the NRA. James Brady, lest we forget, was a (Republican) member of Reagan’s staff before he became an activist after the reality of gun violence struck too close to home.  In other words, “gun control” is not the most suitable of lenses for those wishing to view the world in black and white, and it appears the gun culture is intentionally alienating people whom they could very much use as allies. The evidence suggests that for the past three decades, the NRA’s primary focus has been promoting reactionary politics rather than promoting responsible gun ownership.

Not only most gun owners, but most members of the NRA support one or more gun control measures. The NRA leadership, however, routinely battles any and every measure to regulate firearms in any fashion. In so doing, they are countering the wishes of most of their followers. Yet their followers continue to be loyal; if that isn’t characteristic of a cult, what is?

It was not always thus. Remember that quote above from the leader of the most prominent “gun control” organization? We don’t mean James Brady. Those words were spoken by Karl Frederick, an Olympic shooter who at the time he made this statement was president of the NRA. Yes, that NRA.  For the first century of its existence, the NRA was the foremost advocacy group for “gun control” in the nation. But that was before it discovered that there are much heftier profits to be made by vilifying “gun control”  and its proponents, and whipping up hysteria among impressionable tin hat right-wingers. But by ferociously battling “gun control”, LaPierre and company are not only spitting in the faces of their constituents, but spitting upon their organization’s own heritage.

When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, and the NRA was still in its “gun control” phase, “conservative” politicians were very much in favor of placing heavy restrictions on firearms. One reason was that, in California at least, they were facing what they perceived as a threat to public safety posed by, um, certain armed citizens:

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This even led to the passage of a law in the state, the Mulford Act, which was signed into effect by Gov. Reagan, who commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”  And the NRA, by the way, helped fashion similar legislation in other states. Its own actions weren’t necessarily motivated by racial concerns; remember, it had been a champion of firearm regulation all along. For Reagan and other right-wing politicians, however, it’s hard not to conclude that they were dirtying their drawers not just because of armed citizens, but armed citizens of a particular ethnic flavor.

I don’t mean to suggest that race plays a significant role in right-wing “gun control” politics or anything. I’m sure that if a bunch of armed white guys showed up at a public gathering, the NRA and The Tea Party would be just as concerned and outraged. Wouldn’t they?

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Well, they have yet to demonstrate it. And they have yet to demonstrate that they’re as concerned about deranged mass murderers with guns as they are about African-American activists with guns.  Yet today’s NRA diehards, while denying any racist bent to their own motivations, often declare that racism has always been a prime motive for “liberal”- inspired “gun control” — in large part because over 150 years ago, unarmed slaves had a hard time fighting for their freedom. Yes, seriously.

Despite its ill-informed elevation of Ronald Reagan to figurehead status, one could make a case that the gun culture really didn’t have a warm and cuddly bedmate in the White House until Bush. The younger Bush. His father, though he had the backing of the NRA during his initial run for president in 1988, pissed them off so much during his term that they opposed him during his second run. Three years later he renounced his lifetime membership in the cult when Wayne LaPierre (who at that time was its executive vice president) called ATF agents “jack-booted thugs” who were “scarier than the Nazis”. The NRA is a group that likes to portray itself as super-patriotic, doncha know.

Bush had been personally acquainted with several agents, including one who died in the Oklahoma City blast, which was fueled by NRA-flavored contempt for “the government”. And while I don’t know how many federal agents had been NRA boosters before McVeigh and LaPierre detonated their respective bombs, I’m willing to bet that there were considerably fewer subsequently. Way to rally those troops, Wayne.

Then along came Bush the Younger, and the gun lobby was in hog heaven. Oh, he didn’t do quite as much ass-kissing as they would have liked, and on occasion he even paid lip service to stricter gun laws. But on the other hand he appointed two Supreme Court justices who were willing to essentially rewrite the Second Amendment to the gun lobby’s liking. You can’t hope for much more than that.

And Dick Cheney, who was vice president (at least according to the Supreme Court) openly indulged in passionate lovemaking with the NRA, even speaking at its convention. And here’s where something really interesting happened. While addressing an assemblage of a cult that had become devoted to the maxim that any kind of restraint against firearms was pure evil (no word on whether he consulted his hunting partners on that), Mr. Cheney exercised the most extreme form of “gun control” of all: attendees had to check their hardware at the door.

I know, I know: it was really the Secret Service who insisted on this, and not the Mr. Cheney-who-never-thinks-about-his-flaws himself. But c’mon: he was the second most powerful human on the planet (many would say, with good reason, that he was actually the first). You mean to say that he couldn’t have overridden their orders if he hadn’t considered his own safety more important than that of the average citizen affected by the presence of guns? He and the NRA had a golden opportunity to practice what they preached, and send a message to the nation about just how sincere they were in standing against “gun control”. But they blew it big time.

Am I suggesting that the prohibition against the audience being armed at an appearance by the putative vice president is the same as the type of “gun control” that is applied to society at large? Not at all.  Society at large is made up of all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. The annual gun cult gathering is a highly controlled environment, and for Cheney’s appearance, it was patrolled by a top-notch security force. It was attended by people who are allegedly responsible, law-abiding gun owners — most of whom believe that an armed society is a polite society and guns make you safer and guns don’t kill, people do. But when confronted with the chance to put their barrels where their mouths are, Cheney and his NRA accomplices essentially told the faithful to go Cheney themselves, and did exactly what so many of them falsely accuse Barack Obama (and Adolf Hitler) of doing: they took away everyone’s guns.

And that brings us to the present, and to the chief executive who, for some reason or other, is even more of a godsend for the gunsters — not because he gives them everything they want, but because they can get away with pretending that he’s trying to take away everything they have. In the real world, Obama is no more restrictive on guns than was Reagan; and for that matter, he’s only slightly more “liberal”. Yet the gun culture deifies one and demonizes the other. Which leads one to suspect rather strongly that his complexion might be a factor — particularly when one considers that the gunsters are even far more hostile toward Obama than they were toward Clinton, even though the latter was at least as gung ho about “gun control”, at least as “liberal”, and was a Democrat to boot.

We’ve already given far, far FAR more attention to the Obama-Hitler meme (here, and here and here) than it ever deserved. Unfortunately, it’s still bringing in the lion’s share of page views and comments on this site. No wonder; it’s a trope so misguided, so hateful, so deranged, so monumentally idiotic that it was bound to become a solid fixture in the gunster gospel. The “thinking” goes like this: because Obama is trying to outlaw guns (which he isn’t) that makes him just like Hitler (who also didn’t), whose nonexistent gun ban made the Holocaust possible.

These are the same folks who love to proclaim that “gun control doesn’t work”, yet they also declare that “gun control” was nonetheless responsible for the quintessential tyranny and genocide in world history. When I point out this contradiction to them, the response I tend to get is “You fucking moron! This is different!” Oh. Now I’m really confused. Is Obama a Hitler clone or isn’t he? Does “gun control” work or doesn’t it? What’s that you say? Ah. “Gun control” doesn’t work to reduce crime, but it does work to enable a dictator to control the populace. So it always works to try to eliminate all guns, but it never works to try to eliminate just a few of them. Got it.

It has become an automatic response from gunsters to “defend” guns and all the harm they do by claiming that more people are killed by knives and/or blunt instruments. Both of which are irrelevant. Not to mention not even close to being true.  And of course, they absolutely must point out that more people are killed by automobiles. Which actually is true, but probably not for long. True or not, it’s a breathtakingly inept attempt at defense. Automobiles are designed for a constructive purpose rather than for killing, and are in use constantly, everywhere. Furthermore, their use is rather strictly regulated. Gunsters are being sarcastic when they suggest that those deadly cars should be regulated like guns; but I doubt if any advocates for gun regulation would have any problem with taking that quite literally.

The Second Amendment crowd particularly has its thong in a bunch over the president’s drawing a bead on assault weapons. It isn’t just that they don’t think assault weapons should be restricted; they don’t think there’s any such thing as an assault weapon. It is, they assert, just a fuzzy term made up by the media and other assorted libruls as an excuse to deprive them of their liberty.

Really? Looks like somebody forgot to pass that memo along to the Merchants of Death themselves:

What’s that? “There’s a difference between assault rifle and assault weapon, you fucking commie Nazi gun-grabbing librul moron”? Oh. Sorry.
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Okay, let’s see if we can sort it all out. It’s forbidden for those outside the cult to use the A-word, even though those inside do. It’s mandatory to point out that automobiles kill more people than guns, but taboo to suggest that maybe guns should be regulated at least a fraction as much as automobiles. “Gun control” always fails, except for when it always succeeds. Obama is just like Hitler, except for when he’s totally different.  Obama is an enemy of the Second Amendment for wanting to ban assault weapons, but Reagan was a champion of the Second Amendment for wanting to ban assault weapons, certain types of ammunition, and armed civilians in the streets. Guns make you safer in the streets, but they can’t be permitted in a controlled environment — at least not if a right-wing VIP is making a speech. “Gun control” is racist when proposed by “liberals” because slaves were prohibited from owning guns (along with many, many other things) more than 150 years ago; but just ignore those instances of genuinely racist gun regulation 40 years ago, because they were crafted by the NRA and right-wing politicians, who are never guilty of such things. Everybody up to speed now?
But there’s even more to the tale. In a snit over new proposed gun laws, some American firearms companies, like spoiled schoolyard brats who take their bats and go home if everyone doesn’t play by their rules, have started refusing to sell their products to law enforcement agencies that support the restrictions; and members of the gun culture consider this very cute and clever.  What they may not realize is that many law enforcement agencies already had been planning to boycott firearms manufacturers that didn’t clean up their act. In any case it’s an excellent illustration of just how warped the gun culture mentality is when gun companies think they can teach police departments a lesson by cutting off  40 percent of their own revenues. There are plenty of foreign gun companies that are quite willing to do business with American law enforcement agencies. And if it becomes necessary for a substantially larger number of them to do so, it probably will result in greater expense to those agencies, which eventually will be passed on to citizens in the form of higher taxes and fees. And chances are the gun culture, being composed largely of rabid anti-government types, will not consider that very cute and clever.
But seeing long-term consequences is not exactly their strong suit. So for the time being, giddy from inhaling Second Amendment helium, they’re hellbent for leather on shooting themselves in both feet. And sticking both feet in their mouths.
(NOTE: As you’ve probably noticed, “gun control” is, like “liberal” and “conservative”, one of those terms I invariably enclose in quotation marks. There are mainly two reasons for this: (1) the expression has been co-opted by the gun culture as a term of derision; (2) it was never very accurate in the first place. Guns in the U.S. are WAY beyond “control”, but at least they can be regulated to some extent.
Incidentally, some gunsters object on similar grounds to the term “gun culture”, which is actually rather precise and appropriate. In any case, I’ve never known any of them to provide an alternative — much less a satisfactory one. I’m open to suggestions.)

The Great Ronald Reagan Scam, Part 2: The Cult Of Ron Worship

“Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?”  –Ronald Reagan

They’ve named schools after him. They’ve named parks after him. They’ve named government buildings after him. They’ve named freeways after him. They’ve even (irony alert #1) named a major airport after him, even though he seriously jeopardized passenger safety by firing nearly 1200 air traffic controllers who dared go on strike for better working conditions. And they’re just getting wound up.

They’ve proposed putting Reagan’s face on Mt. Rushmore, on the dime, and on the ten-dollar bill (“Hamilton was a great man, but it’s time to move on”, they said). They proposed doing these last two while he was still alive, even though it was prohibited by law – a law that was (irony alert #2) signed into effect by none other than Ronald Reagan. Let’s face it: sooner or later, everything in the U.S. will be named after The Gipper if they have their way.

And who exactly are “they”? They are The Cult Of Ron Worship, a de facto organization spearheaded by an official organization called the Reagan Legacy Project, whose avowed aim is to put their idol’s name on at least one landmark in each of the 3000 counties in the United States, as well as in several former communist nations. Once you’ve stopped laughing, know that they not only are quite in earnest, but are well on the way to achieving their objective. This is their way of celebrating the “legacy” of a president who (irony alert #3) allegedly was supremely popular and populist: not by letting his achievements speak for themselves, thus inspiring the citizenry to honor him on their own, but by orchestrating an intense drive to leave his name in wet cement everywhere, whether the citizens want it there or no.

It’s a good bet that (irony alert #4) many of these people are Christian fundamentalists, and yet they seem to be totally oblivious to one of the fundamentalist tenets referred to as “the mark of the beast”. At least Reagan himself (or more likely Nancy Reagan herself) appears to have been cognizant of the biblically-inspired superstitions surrounding the number 666. Because that was the original address of the Los Angeles home they moved into upon his retirement – after having the address officially changed to 668. Sorry, Ron, but you can’t escape your destiny that easily: just count the letters in the name Ronald Wilson Reagan.

But back to the real world. There are also plenty of  legitimate reasons why it’s very curious that right-wingers should be so in love with the man. He was simply (irony alert # 5) not nearly as right-wing himself as both right-wingers and left-wingers tend to believe. Sure, he was a virulent corporatist who opposed any kind of restriction on corporate profits, especially those that might insure better conditions for workers or offer some protection to the environment. And he was a fiercely nationalist hawk of hawks,  bent on bullying the rest of the galaxy into bowing down and acknowledging American supremacy.

But he also taxed and spent as if there were no tomorrow. And he granted amnesty to illegal aliens. He even flunked the litmus test on the mother-lode issue of wingnut propaganda, abortion: officially, he marched in step with the “pro-life” contingent of his party and gave lip service to its naive advocacy of government-induced prohibition as a supposed solution, but in practice he never actually did a damn thing about it. And as governor of California a few years earlier, he’d signed a bill actually liberalizing abortion rights. If an individual of his track record tried to crash today’s Tea Party, he’d be shown the door pronto (pardon the un-Amurrcan vocabulary, tea partiers). He was neither an extreme conservative in the true sense of the word, nor an extreme “conservative” in the radical Republican sense of the word. Today’s fanatics who proclaim themselves “Reagan conservatives” (I’m gazing northward, Sarah) are simply displaying how little they really know about the demigod whose boots they lick.

On a recent bout of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh had his smoochfest with St. Ronald interrupted by an informed and articulate caller who asked him just why “conservatives” are so enamored of the character who did so many things they claim to oppose, such as arming terrorists, expanding the government, enlarging the debt and raising taxes. After considerable stammering (and no doubt wondering how the hell this guy managed to get past his call screeners) Limbaugh finally said, “Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes on social security?” Ummm… ever hear of a silly little thing called research, Rush? (He didn’t even bother denying all the other tax hikes.)

But then ideology is based on convictions, not facts. And Reagan was certainly a man of convictions, or at least a man who convinced you of his convictions. Despite his shortcomings as a communicator, he was a great salesman, a rather accomplished storyteller, and an absolutely phenomenal con artist. And as such he has been selected as a deified figurehead by today’s neocons, who willfully turn a blind eye to his actual performance in office.  Warren G. Harding once commented of another American historical figure whose exploits had been exaggerated, “I love Paul Revere, whether he rode or not.” Likewise, today’s teabag crowd is determined to love Ronald Reagan, whether he was really Ronald Reagan or not.

And that’s really not so surprising, given that His Lordship got the ball rolling for them by constructing myths about himself. His administration practiced what they referred to as “perception management”, an Orwellian euphemism (he was president in 1984, after all) for using government agencies, think tanks and media connections to manipulate public opinion – paving the way for the near-total media subservience under George W. Bush some 20 years later. As his spokesperson Larry Speakes said to the media, “You don’t tell us how to stage the news, and we don’t tell you how to cover it.” The Reagan years saw the death of the Fairness Doctrine and the rise of Fox “News”, Rush Limbaugh and the Moonie-owned Washington Times, which Reagan called his favorite newspaper; and the revival of the McCarthyist attitude that right-wing demagoguery is patriotism, and dissent is sedition (if and only if there’s a Republican in the White House). In the oft-quoted phrase coined by Reagan acolyte Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the “San Francisco Democrats” who dare criticize Reaganistic policy “always blame America first”.

He was always willing to say exactly what his followers wanted to hear, and to present himself as the knight in shining armor, whether or not his statements bore any resemblance at all to reality. He tried to justify his massive cuts in social services by concocting the story of the black welfare queen who drove down to pick up her food stamps in a Cadillac, and by insisting that Americans, being Good Christians, would contribute a tenth of their income to worthy causes, as exhorted by the Bible; while his own tax records reveal that he himself contributed only about a tenth of a tenth.

There was hardly a fact in existence anywhere that he wasn’t willing to drape with a myth in order to advance an ideology. He claimed (and perhaps believed) that 80% of our air pollution is caused by plants; that a year’s worth of nuclear waste can be “stored under a desk”, and that the homeless sleep in the streets because they choose to. When he paid tribute to Nazi soldiers in Bitburg, he referred to them as “victims”, quite oblivious to the import of his words or deeds.

And then there was the crowning glory of his administration: the illegal sale of weapons to a hostile nation, and the illegal funneling of the profits to a group of drug-running terrorists in Central America. He referred to these thugs, who were known to bomb hospitals and rape nuns among other amusements, as “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers”, and christened them “freedom fighters”. (A one-liner making the rounds at the time was, “if fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?”) When it came out that some nuns were among the casualties in one terrorist attack by “freedom fighters”, the administration claimed (at least initially) that they were actually secret agents, apparently working for God with one hand and Marx with the other.

It is entirely fitting that Reagan should have so eagerly adopted the nickname The Gipper, from his portrayal of a Notre Dame football player named George Gipp in the film “Knute Rockne, All American”. In this flick the legendary coach Knute Rockne rallies his team to victory with a tear-jerking halftime speech about how Gipp, on his deathbed, asked the coach at some opportune future time to “win one for The Gipper”, a phrase Reagan later adopted as his own rallying cry. Gipp was a real player, but both he and Rockne were far from being the honorable, clean-living heroes presented in the film. And Rockne never heard Gipp say those words; so if he actually used that line on his team, he was simply being, like Reagan, a good storyteller.

In other words, The Washington Gipper, like the Hollywood Gipper, was a person who never really existed.

But he’s coming soon, to an inconvenient location near you.

The Great Ronald Reagan Scam, Part 1: Man and Myth

 

“Facts are stupid things” — Ronald Reagan

Sunday is a very special day, eh what? Americans everywhere are waxing misty-eyed because it marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the beloved Gipper. Politicians, pundits and preachers are praising in chorus the virtues of the late great Ronald Reagan. Through a great deal of arm-twisting, even Sarah Palin has been coaxed out of seclusion and persuaded to defy her shyness and make a rare public appearance to speak in his honor. The Young Americas Foundation has even pledged to celebrate his birthday not just for one day, but an entire year. All of which prompts just one little question…

WTF?????

So extreme is the exaltation of St. Ronald that anyone who dares question his supreme greatness is subject to being branded a communist, a traitor, a terrorist coddler, a librul, a hippie and a bona fide baby-sacrificing devil worshiper. Well, we’ve never been prone to shy away from risk. So this is not only going to be a questioning of the Reagan myth but a shattering of it. Actually, it’s not just one myth but many. So let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

Myth # 1: He was an enormously popular leader who unified the nation and revived national pride.

In almost any discussion about “Dutch” of more than 3 or 4 paragraphs, it’s just about inevitable that the word “popular” will crop up; and if it’s a discussion of more than a page or so, you’re just about guaranteed to hear the claim that in addition to being one of the greatest presidents ever, he was one of the most popular ever. But the numbers show that he was actually one of the least popular. In fact, since presidential approval began to be assessed during the FDR administration, only one president (Nixon) achieved a lower peak rating than Reagan. That’s right: even such alleged “failures” as Ford and Carter scored higher.

Furthermore, he achieved the fifth-highest disapproval rating. Toward the end of his term, he was less admired by Americans than was Mikhail Gorbachev, for crying out loud. Far from unifying the country, he was one of the most polarizing figures in the nation’s history. Many of the actions his administration undertook (e.g., gutting environmental protections and REPEATEDLY supporting terrorists and brutal dictatorships) were fiercely and genuinely divisive (as opposed to the “divisiveness” manufactured by opponents of the Obama administration by deliberately distorting his record).  For every American who was “proud” because of him, there was at least one who was embarrassed as hell.

Myth # 2. He won the Cold War and brought down the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev, when asked about this, replied, “That’s not serious.” But to many Americans, it’s dead serious. The official spin, which is already being injected into textbooks, is that by challenging the Evil Empire to a spending duel, he brought them to bankruptcy. Well, it certainly worked in reverse, bringing the U.S. to bankruptcy, but as for its effect on the USSR, there are at least a couple of problems with this assertion: (1) The Soviet Union began collapsing almost from day one; and according to CIA intel, it was already on the brink a decade or so before Reagan took office; and (2) The Soviets didn’t take the bait – they were vastly outgunned and they knew it.

So think about it: if you were challenged to compare military toys by a giant, would you (A) rush headlong into a confrontation you know you can’t win, or (B) give some semblance of being competitive while allowing the giant to exhaust itself? Far from ending the Cold War, Reagan’s cowboy bluster may have dragged it out unnecessarily. Worse, it sowed the seeds of a future conflict that would prove to be far deadlier. For in arming and training insurgents to rise up against the Russians in Afghanistan, the Reagan administration first enabled, then disillusioned a young hothead named Osama bin Laden.

Myth # 3. He was a man of impeccable character.

Only if “character” means lying through your teeth. A few years ago, a bipartisan panel of journalists rated the last few presidents on their mendacity, judging not only the number of lies told but also their severity. Reagan rated as the second biggest liar, being bested only by Bush the Younger (probably the all-time champion) [This was written before 45 came along]. Such evaluations always entail a certain amount of subjectivity, but in this case half the panel were right-wingers, who almost always defend their own at all costs.

And there’s another factor to consider: unlike Dubya and his crew, whose facial expressions often gave them away, Reagan was a highly skilled liar. He delivered even the wildest fibs with such sincerity that you’d think he believed them himself (and maybe sometimes he did, but that’s another story.) Among other things, he lied to pad his own resume; he claimed, for instance, to have filmed the liberation of POW’s from a Nazi concentration camp, when in the real world he spent the entire war in California. He also liked to relate the anecdote of how during his early days as a sports broadcaster he once improvised for six minutes when the ticker tape went dead during the broadcast of a baseball game. The incident really did happen, but the announcer involved was Walter Cronkite, who related it to Reagan, who then adopted it as his own. Not only was he willing to lie, he was perfectly willing to take credit for other people’s actions.

Often, in order to avoid giving fraudulent information, he would just say “I don’t recall” – a phrase he and his underlings used so frequently he could have trademarked it. During the hearings over Iran-Contra (and how was THAT for a character caper), his National Security Adviser, one Colin Powell, used the phrase 56 times. Another trick he used for evading questions was simply to pretend he couldn’t hear reporters because of whatever noise conveniently happened to be nearby.

Myth # 4: He was The Great Communicator.

If so, someone forgot to inform his own aides, who often found themselves scrambling after reporters at the conclusion of a media conference to explain what the prez really meant by that bizarre statement he just made. The truth is that many Americans were so infatuated with his avuncular persona, his glib delivery, his handy store of cocky one-liners, that they didn’t really pay much attention to the substance of his remarks. If they had, they would have noticed gaffe after gaffe after gaffe. And they also would have noticed something else: his thespian skills were most often used to avoid communicating. A prime example is when a journalist asked him, after he’d been shifting the blame for the economic mess to Democrats, whether he in fact accepted any share of the responsibility himself.  To which he answered, “Yes, because for many years I was a Democrat.” The response became an instant classic in the Reagan hit parade. The question was quickly forgotten.

Myth # 5: He reduced the tax burden.

He certainly did. For the richest Americans. But most of us – most meaning about 80% – actually ended up paying more when he was done. Cut taxes? Yes, he did. Before he raised them. And raised them. And raised them. And so on, for the remaining 7 years of his administration. Funny how his admirers only remember the tax cut of the first year, even though it’s farther in the past.

Myth # 6: Smaller government.

Reagan increased the number of federal workers by 61,000. In contrast, Bill Clinton, supposedly a champion of “big government”, reduced the federal workforce by 373,000.

Myth # 7: He was one of the greatest presidents of the Century, or even of all time.

To put it charitably, there is a great deal of question about where he rates on the scale. Not the scale of greatness, but the scale of competence.  Of his greatness there is no doubt, if greatness is defined as having an impact on history. By that standard, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Hitler were all great leaders. But Reagan’s greatness was a product of neither malevolence (at least not his own) nor noble deeds, but rather of sheer disengagement.  His hands-off style of “leadership” consisted largely in making stirring speeches and leaving the details to others – including his wife’s astrologer. While he smirked for the cameras and napped through meetings, an astounding total of 138 of his officials were convicted, indicted and/or investigated for unethical or illegal activity.

He ignored the AIDS crisis until it started claiming celebrities that he personally was acquainted with. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to a conference eager to discuss arms reductions, Reagan entered and launched into a series of offensive jokes about Russians. When a Lebanese ambassador came to discuss a national crisis in his home country, he appeared to listen politely and then asked, “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Danny Thomas?”  When he signed the S&L deregulation bill in the presence of executives from the industry, he commented, “All in all, I think we’ve hit the jackpot.” The “we” he referred to did not include Joe Six-Pack – the rest of us paid the bill for that jackpot, to the tune of 150 billion.

While preaching fiscal restraint, he amassed a national debt more than that of all the previous presidents combined (even though Congress, controlled by “tax and spend” Democrats, consistently allotted less money than he sought for his schemes).  He first vehemently denied responsibility for the Iran-Contra affair, while telling lie upon lie, then later admitted, sort of, that he wasn’t exactly sure whether he authorized it or not.

He set a record for most time spent on vacation by an occupant of the Oval Office – a record that would be shattered by George W. Bush [and again by 45], but Reagan was a pioneer in his time. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger noted of him, “It’s very unusual to have a president who’s not interested in policy at all. He would try to avoid policy discussions. When he couldn’t, he’d resort to his cue cards… He was an actor, the quintessential actor.” That may be the description of a “great man”, but it’s certainly not the description of a competent leader.

So given his ineptitude, his failures,  the unprecedented corruption that surrounded him, his disastrous impact on the economy and foreign relations, and his rather unpopular standing with the public, why is he being revered as a messiah? Glad you asked.

(Next: The Cult of Ron Worship)




Playing “Telephone” in Cyberspace

Few people make it through childhood without at some time or other playing the game of Telephone, though they may call it other names. In case you don’t remember or you’ve never been a child, here’s how it works. You sit in a circle, and one person begins by whispering something into the next person’s ear. That person then whispers it (as best he or she understood) to the next person, and so on all around the circle. By the time the phrase reaches the end, it usually has been mangled beyond recognition, often with hilarious results. Not only is the game fun, but it’s an interesting study in human nature – that is, in how the imagination fills in the gaps when information is missing, and the memory accepts it as reality.

The same thing happens when we watch a movie. The projector throws 24 frames per second up onto the screen, but if that was all it threw up, it would be a big blur, like nothing more than a projector throwing up. But the projector wisely inserts a brief blackout between images, knowing that the viewer’s mind will immediately conjure up an image to bridge the gap, and the viewer will believe that his or her eyes actually saw it, and will interpret the whole thing as a continuous flow. When you watch a movie, half of it is really just hallucination! (Although it’s more formally known as “persistence of vision”.)

When it comes to what we hear, the gaps are much larger – and thus the distortion in the game of Telephone. And when it comes to what we read or what we try to remember after a considerable time has passed, the gaps are larger still, and therefore there is an even greater potential for distortion. We all fill in the blanks; it’s the way we’re wired, and it might actually help us survive under some circumstances. But in 21st Century America, it’s gone way beyond survival mode. We’re wallowing in hallucination, in the form of loony rumors circulating on the Internet and the cesspool of talking head TV that passes for journalism. We’re still playing Telephone, but using modern technology to do it.

This first occurred to me several years ago when Ronald Reagan died. Shortly thereafter, I heard a comment about it from an RRR. (Rabidly Right-Wing Relative. We all have them, don’t we? And don’t they make family gatherings entertaining?) Actually, the comment was about Air America, the since-defunct “librul” radio network. The comment was to the effect that the people at Air America had said they were glad Reagan was dead.

Now I’d already learned long before that you NEVER want to suggest an RRR might be… um, a little mistaken about something unless you want the gathering to get even more entertaining – and in the process get yourself branded as a hopeless commie librul. But that remark just didn’t sound right. Granted, Air America had no great love for The Gipper. But unlike their right-wing media counterparts, I had never known them to be uncivil – which is probably why they didn’t survive.

So at the first opportunity I did some Internet research. And the first thing I saw was that the episode had been repeated repeatedly, and passed on as the truth. As I recall, some versions of the story even quoted someone at Air America as actually saying, “I’m glad he’s dead” or some such.

But then I did something really revolutionary: I traced the rumor to its source. That’s often a pretty easy thing to do in this Cyber age (it took all of about 10 minutes), so when I see people repeating rumors unquestioningly, I can only assume that they don’t really want to know the facts. That’s the conclusion I draw, for instance, when I see Tea Partiers marching and railing against “socialized medicine” and the “Nazi” president and “death panels” and so on. How many of them even know what socialism is? One in a thousand? One in ten thousand? How many realize that the communists and the Nazis were on opposing sides? And how many of them have actually read the health care bill? Even ONE? If so, that person is a great rarity – reportedly, even the lawmakers who voted on it didn’t read it. I confess I didn’t read the whole thing either, but I did read whatever sections of it were supposedly so evil, every time I came across one of those forwarded emails we all get. And in every case, the actual bill stated something very different from what the rumor stated – in some cases, it was the exact opposite!

In the case of the Reagan/ Air America incident, there really was no incident. It all started not with Air America, but with one of the pundits on some other network. (It was probably Fox “News”, but I don’t recall for certain, and on this occasion I’m going to invoke my once-annually Fox privilege of not doing any research. Besides which, I want to demonstrate that it’s possible to fill in gaps without getting hallucinatory.) That person said something like, “The people over at Air America are probably celebrating right now.” (Those may not be the exact words, so don’t quote me. I don’t want to be part of your Telephone game, thank you.) Thus, many viewers apparently assumed that the Air Americans really WERE celebrating, and therefore that they were glad Reagan was dead, all from that a fictitious quote bubbled up out of someone’s persistence of vision.

In a perfect world, any Internet outrage in this matter would have been over the childish and irresponsible conduct of the pundit, rather than over Air America saying what they didn’t say. In a perfect world, people would trace rumors to their sources, rather than blindly passing them on because it suits their ideology. But then there would be no need for sites like this one. And adults might not play their backstabbing version of Telephone so much.

And wouldn’t that be boring?

 

25 Things You’re Supposed to Believe (Because You’re Just Supposed to Believe, So Shut Up and Don’t Ask Questions)

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1. The U.S. is in every way vastly superior to every other nation on earth. And we’re God’s favorite.

2. Everyone deserves his or her financial status, whether rich or poor. If you work hard enough, you’ll be successful, and if you’re poor, you’re just lazy. The only rich people who are just lucky are Hollywood celebrities, who are pampered airheads totally out of touch with the real world. (Except for Chuck Norris.)

3. Giving a pittance in handouts to the poor encourages dependency and is a major burden to taxpayers; giving billions in handouts to the rich encourages industriousness and is good for the economy. If we take care of the rich first, it will trickle down to everyone else.

4. The Confederacy was a noble cause, and the Civil War was inevitable. It was really about states’ rights rather than slavery.

5. The bombing of Japan was necessary to end the war, and it saved more lives than it destroyed.

6. The Democratic Party is the party of tax and spend, and the Republican Party is the party of fiscal restraint.

7. Eating meat makes you strong and healthy.

8. Ronald Reagan won the cold war, and brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union.

9. The Founding Fathers were all Christian, and intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

10. Islam is a more violent religion than Christianity.

11. It’s impossible to have a moral compass without religion.

12. It’s easy to read and understand the Bible; the English translations we have are very accurate.

13. Trying to guarantee equality of economic opportunity is the same as trying to guarantee equality of economic achievement; and it’s socialist/ communist/ fascist/ whateverist.

14. Capital punishment deters crime.

15. Outlawing abortion is an effective way to prevent it.

16. Pro-choice is the same as pro-abortion.

17. The Second Amendment gives you the right to own a gun.

18. Firearm regulation (“gun control”) means trying to outlaw guns.

19. Evolution means that humans descended from apes; and it’s only a theory.

20. Secularism means suppression of religious freedom.

21. There is an “invisible hand” guiding the economy, and if we just leave it alone, everything will turn out fine on its own.

22. Regulation of business practices is an unwarranted interference in free enterprise, and is socialist/ communist./ fascist/ whateverist.

23. Sex education just gives kids ideas that they’d never be able to think of otherwise; what really works is to tell kids to just say no.

24. “Political correctness” is a totalitarian mindset that squashes free speech.

25. There is a “liberal” bias to American media.