Fact-Free Politics

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

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

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

Tweedledee But Tweedledumber

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

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

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

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

Building Deception

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lying on Auto Pilot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Propaganda Prop # 5: Spin

The headline in USA Today was eye-catching: “Obama faces uphill battle for reelection.” But what was even more arresting was the accompanying graphic depicting poll results that matched him up against his potential GOP challengers. It demonstrated that he was in a statistical dead heat with all of them, and he was actually leading against at least one. So why didn’t the headline say “GOP challengers face uphill battle to unseat Obama?”  Well, because of a little thing called spin, which is the next in our series of propaganda tools.

We’ve all heard of spin, and we’ve hall heard plenty of spin. We’re surrounded by it, bombarded by it, saturated with it. And its power to alter perception is very much in proportion with its pervasiveness.

For better or for worse, President Obama almost certainly is headed for a second term. Indeed, it has seldom been in serious doubt. It’s not a definite thing, mind you; never underestimate the effectiveness of swiftboating and ACORNization; but you’d be much wiser putting your money on him than against him. Examine the chart on InTrade, which has become a very reliable predictor of such matters, and you’ll see that the probability of his reelection has hovered at around 60 percent for most of the past year or so, and only briefly dipped below 50 percent. Yet the conventional “wisdom” has always been that he has a better chance of building a cat house on the moon. Why? Because the media have relentlessly pursued the narrative that his electoral glass is half empty instead of (at least) half full, apparently hell-bent on making his November defeat a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Spin is  not, strictly speaking, a technique in itself, but a species of technique application. And it isn’t strictly a political activity, but its application to politics certainly trumps any other usage these days – even commercial advertising, which previously was the primary domain of spin.

You also might notice that spin sounds very similar to framing; and in fact, they’re often used interchangeably. But in practice, there are generally certain distinctions between the two. Framing usually promotes one of a number of possible interpretations, while spin generally means reversing the polarity of a given perception — i.e., making an unfavorable result appear favorable, or vice versa. Framing might be thought of as a preemptive strike to mold perception of future events, while spin may be thought of as damage control to reshape perception of past events.  (Even in the example cited, the spin is applied to poll results that already have occurred.) You’ll witness spin in action after just about any election, as the losers and/or their backers try to explain to the public that defeat didn’t really mean what it meant.

One of the most brazen (and most successful) political spin campaigns ever occurred after the 2000 election, when the supporters of George W. Bush — who, at the very least, lost the popular vote — hailed the 5-4 Supreme Court decision that put him in office as a sweeping mandate that reflected the overwhelming will of the people. They sported maps that colored in the “red” and “blue” states and proclaimed, I kid you not, that three-fifths of the nation had voted for Dubya. Fox “News” hawked T-shirts blazoned with such a map, reflecting “Bush’s stunning victory”.  Not to be outdone, the reactionary blog Free Republic zeroed in on California, publishing a map that showed Bush carried more counties in that state, and declaring that he “beat Gore to a bloody pulp” — in a state Gore won by a 12 percent margin!

We should note that spin descends into such grotesque silliness not necessarily by providing false information, but by seizing on the wrong information. What those maps really proved was that Bush voters were spread out among a wider expanse of real estate than Gore voters.  Which is about as relevant as saying that Gore voters tended to live in taller buildings. (Hey, why not a 3-D electoral map that stresses depth rather than breadth of voter distribution?) That vast red territory is occupied largely by cattle, rattlesnakes and scorpions — none of which cast ballots in that election (at least to the best of our knowledge).

But, as in the example of the Obama polls, another way to spin is just to offer a strained interpretation of the facts. For an all-time classic textbook example we turn, as we so often do, to the great Rush Limbaugh. And the topic was not politics but, as you might expect, he did his damnedest to politicize it. It was the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which damaged a portion of freeway around Los Angeles. Here’s how FAIR compares Limbaugh’s comments to events in the real world:

LIMBAUGH: On California contractor C.C. Myers completing repairs 74 days early on the earthquake-damaged Santa Monica Freeway: “There was one key element that made this happen. One key thing: The governor of California declared the [freeway] a disaster area and by so doing eliminated the need for competitive bids…. Government got the hell out of the way.” (TV show, 4/13/94) “They gave this guy [Myers] the job without having to go through the rigmarole…of giving 25 percent of the job to a minority-owned business and 25 percent to a woman.” (TV show, 4/15/94)

REALITY: There was competitive bidding: Myers beat four other contractors for the job. Affirmative action rules applied: At least 40 percent of the subcontracts went to minority or women-owned firms. Far from getting out of the way, dozens of state employees were on the job 24 hours a day. Furthermore, the federal government picked up the tab for the whole job (L.A. Times, 5/1/94).

Unable to wrap his brain around the notion that the big bad guvmint actually might be able to operate effectively on occasion, Limbaugh just blotted it out of the picture altogether. His recipe for turning reality on its ear was (1) Select some actual facts– i.e., that repairs were completed by a private contractor well ahead of estimated schedule; (2) Stir in some made-up facts — i.e., that the government cut corners on affirmative action and other regulatory measures; (3) Extrapolate an interpretation that is contrary to truth — i.e., that the efficiency of the project was due to the government “getting the hell out of the way”; (4) dish it up to the masses (serves several million).

That, folks, is spin at its spinfulest.

Abortion: the Big Lie and the Inconvenient Truth (Part 1)

Question of the day (and perhaps the century): why would anyone representing a just and righteous cause feel the need to promote that cause with lies and deception? That, perhaps, is the question we ought to be posing to “pro-life” activists. Granted, there are plenty of “pro-lifers” who are honest and well-meaning enough. But they allow themselves to be manipulated by  fanatics who are blatantly dishonest – if not batshit loony. While posing as representatives of infallible truth and moral rectitude – often on wisdom obtained directly from God Herself – they perpetrate falsehood after falsehood, including one Big Lie that is the backbone of all the others.

They’ve said that abortion causes cancer. They’ve said that it causes infertility. They’ve said that women can’t get pregnant from being raped. They’ve said that abortion providers aggressively promote the service because it’s highly profitable. They’ve said that women who’ve undergone the procedure are highly susceptible to depression and suicide. They’ve said that most abortion patients have multiple procedures and use it as a form of birth control. They’ve said that Roe Vs. Wade applied the same line of reasoning as the Dred Scott decision. They’ve said that Planned Parenthood exists primarily to peddle abortion. They’ve said that the organization is aided and abetted by The Girl Scouts. (Did someone say “batshit loony”?) They’ve said that the organization supplies defective birth control in order to pump up the abortion count. (Did someone say it again?) They’ve said that fetuses feel pain before the third trimester. They’ve obtained (and often digitally altered) photos of fetuses aborted in rare late-term emergency procedures, and presented them as typical. They’ve said that emergency contraception produces an abortion. They’ve said that most abortion clinics are located in black neighborhoods – thus implying it’s all a sinister eugenics plot.  Is there any lie they won’t tell in the name of Truth?

But none of these is The Big Lie. Nor is it the notion that life begins at conception; that’s just a belief that is generally at loggerheads with other dogma cherished by “pro-lifers”. A great many of them are religious fundamentalists (though by no means do all religious people believe this way), and religion of just about any flavor is predicated on the idea that we are spiritual beings; yet while believing this, they also define personhood in terms of a biological process. But religionists routinely contradict themselves all over the map. Get used to it. And get used to the fact that a great many “pro-lifers” support the death penalty and aggressive warfare that kills thousands of innocent civilians; “pro-life” applies only to the “unborn”, not to the born. Still, a sincerely held conviction, however oxymoronic, is hardly a lie.

The very term “pro-life” is disingenuous, as it shifts focus away from the core issue – i.e., how to curb abortion – to a metaphysical speculation on the definition of life – no, it’s not even a speculation, but an arrogant assertion.  But this is not The Big Lie, either. The Big Lie is not what “pro-lifers” say about themselves, but what they say about The Others.

The Big Lie: Pro-Choice is the same as Pro-Abortion

Leave it to Rush Limbaugh, highly accomplished practitioner of big lies, to articulate The Big Lie About Abortion in its nastiest and nuttiest terms:

The term (“feminazi”) describes any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion. A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed.

Got that? If you’re a “militant feminist”, whatever that is (I picture khaki-clad females -and males, perhaps – blasting down the wall between the men’s restroom and the women’s because the lines are longer in the latter), then you’re a stepchild of Hitler and you just absolutely love abortion.

Okay, hit the pause button. I’d like to invite you to stop and do something that the Limbaughs and Becks and Coulters and Malkins and Hannitys desperately hope you will never, ever do: think. That’s right – summon forth before your mind’s eye a parade of all the people you’ve known in your life and ask yourself this: How many can you think of who actually thought abortion was a good thing? Can you, in fact, recall even one? If so, then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Most of the people I have known would be classified as “pro-choice” rather than “pro-life”. But I’ve never encountered anyone who liked the idea of abortion – and most emphatically not the people who’ve actually undergone them. And I have known quite a few such individuals; indeed, some have been very good friends. (I surely have known far more than I realized – and so have you – because most people who have had one don’t proclaim it from the rooftops.) Without exception, they were all among the sweetest, most loving and compassionate human beings I’ve ever met.  All of them who talked about the experience at all concurred that it was a devastating ordeal that they wouldn’t wish on anyone. Likewise for all the women I’ve ever heard about who have had one. Yet in Limbaugh Loonyland, these women are “baby killers” and “feminazis” who feel empowered every time a pregnant teenager heads to the clinic.

In our particular galaxy, however, women and girls do not terminate pregnancies because they are evil, but because they are desperate. “Pro-choice” is not (as the term “pro-life” is designed to suggest) pro-death or anti-life. And people are not pro-choice because they deem abortion to be a Sunday picnic or a power trip, but because they are realistic enough to grasp an inconvenient truth.

The Inconvenient Truth: There will always be abortions as long as there are unwanted pregnancies.

This is true whether they are legal or banned. It’s a fascinating irony that there is such a great deal of overlap between “pro-lifers” and gun lovers. And I don’t just mean it’s ironic because they claim to revere life while being enamored of instruments of death. I mean it’s ironic because gun lovers love to say (quite irrelevantly)  that “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”. But “pro-lifers” love to tout government-induced prohibition as the ultimate response to abortion (often before the altar of “limited government”). Does this mean they believe that guns are more vital and germane to the human condition than sex? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them did.

(Be sure to check out Part 2 of this discussion.)

Reactions to the Reaction Against Rush’s Reactionism

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

Catchphrase # 1: “Suppressing Free Speech”

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

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

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

Catchphrase # 2: “Double Standard”

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

Oh, puh-lease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catchphrase # 3: “Liberal Hypocrisy”

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

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

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

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

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

Communists, Socialists, Marxists, Oh My!

Whoever said that nothing is certain except death and taxes made a glaring oversight. It’s also certain that whenever anyone proposes genuine change, they’re going to be branded communist, socialist, and/or Marxist (not to mention liberal, of course). If Karl Marx never accomplished anything else with his life, he at least bequeathed American reactionaries a handy epithet or two to hurl.

These epithets were hurled at labor organizers in the Thirties, some of whom were threatened, attacked and even killed for daring to demand better working conditions. They were hurled in the Sixties at hippies who rejected mindless materialism and peaceniks who protested the Viet Nam involvement. They were hurled in the Fifties at anyone who did anything to show that they were alive. And now, naturally, they’re being hurled at the protesters of Occupy Wall Street.

You won’t have to worry, though, about such labels being applied to the Tea Party – in fact, they’re quite often the ones doing the applying.  The Tea Party’s main objective isn’t genuine change; it’s undoing the changes wrought, or that they believe to have been wrought, by the Obama administration. Their much-ballyhooed “anger” is largely an irrational reaction to a mythical tax increase and a mythical version of a healthcare bill they haven’t read and don’t understand. (My favorite recent example of how the punditocracy brainwashes the masses is that 25% of Republicans expressed fear the 2012 election will be stolen for Obama by ACORN – which disbanded more than a year ago!)

Occupy Wall Street, however, at least has a beef rooted in reality: the old trickle-down economic model is not working, has never worked, and is not working even more now. The last quarter of 2010 was the most profitable for large businesses since the government began keeping records on them more than 60 years ago. Recession? What recession? The richest one percent of Americans have QUINTUPLED their wealth in the past few years. You really believe it’s because they’re smarter or work harder than the rest of us? Good! I have a rainbow I’ve been wanting to sell.

Yet a tenth of American workers remain unemployed and the number of people applying for food stamps sets a new record every month. Corporations are basking in cash and often paying no taxes on it, their CEOs are getting obscenely huge bonuses – and at the same time they’re making massive cuts to their workforce and outsourcing jobs to places where labor is much cheaper. Oil companies post record profits, but fuel prices are stuck at well over three bucks a gallon.  Washington, we have a problem. But meanwhile, rather than vote on a jobs bill backed by the current president, Congress votes on recognizing “In God We Trust” as the national motto. (There is a suspicion, not without cause, that all of this is part of a scheme to thwart Obama’s re-election, using American workers and consumers as political pawns.)

It’s probably clear to most people that there is no simple solution to these problems. It’s clear enough to the demonstrators, and so they aren’t proposing simple solutions.  (It is not true, however, that they’ve proposed no remedial measures at all.) This makes them all the more subject to vilification by a media elite accustomed to thinking in black and white. (For an amusing and yet nauseating tabulation of the media’s spin on OWS, including the common mantra that the participants “don’t know what they want”, see here.) There’s an interesting principle at work here, and so your Professor of Propaganda is going to give it a name.

P.O.P.’S LAW OF INVERSE BENEFIT: The greater the number of people who stand to benefit from a particular movement, the more intense the smear campaign against it will be.

The Tea Party is a movement perpetrated mostly by a relatively small number of  right-wing extremists. From the beginning the media trumpeted it as a grassroots revolution, greatly exaggerating its numbers and not only giving extensive coverage to its rallies, but advance notice of its planned events, encouraging the public to attend. The attendees said that Obama is illegitimate, that he is a Muslim and a terrorist, that he has hiked their taxes, that he wants to institute death panels and destroy the nation and outlaw fishing. And oh yeah, that global warming is a hoax. And with a perfectly straight face, the media gave them an unlimited spotlight and microphone.

Occupy Wall Street has said that greed and corruption are strangling the American dream. And after ignoring them as long as possible, the media met them with ridicule and contempt. Which included, of course, the commie/socialist/Marxist syndrome – and just to hedge bets, the contradictory label of Nazi was thrown in as well. (Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd has complained about the media’s “double standard”. You think I’m joshing?)

Are there any communists/socialists/Marxists involved in OWS? Beyond a doubt. And I’d wager that none are the anti-American monsters the right-wingers have them pegged for. Unlike the Tea Party, Occupy Wall street has an extremely broad base of support; it would be miraculous if there weren’t any communists/socialists/Marxists involved. But to claim that they represent the heart of the movement is a meme that only Fox and its diehard fans would buy into.  If you look long and hard at a Tea Party rally, you’ll spot an occasional dark face in the crowd; but would anyone alive characterize the Tea Party as an African-American activist group?

Because of its broad appeal, Occupy Wall Street attracts all kinds of people-except, apparently, right-wing extremists, who seem pretty unified in demonizing it. The ones who attend the demonstrations seem to do so incognito, with the intent of inciting violence, provoking arrests and in general trying to bring down the PR quotient of the actual movement. Even James O’Keefe, the notorious creator of deceptively doctored videos, was spotted at a rally. So his next little masterpiece should be premiering any day now.

Such a diverse group as the Occupy movement, alas, is inevitably going to have its share of unsavory characters along for the ride. When a protester in New York was sexually assaulted (bear in mind that these people are camping out in public parks), OWS organizers responded swiftly, putting in place measures to prevent such attacks in the future. The punditocracy also responded swiftly, seemingly touting the incident as proof that OWS is just one big rape camp. Meanwhile, a handful of Jew-bashers in the crowd prompted a major media narrative that OWS is anti-Semitic. The hilarious thing is that many who make such a claim also vehemently protest the (also unfair, perhaps) characterization of the Tea Party as racist, even though the instances of Tea Party racism are FAR more extensive, and apparently the sentiment even extends to its leadership.

Whether or not you ultimately decide to support Occupy Wall Street (or the Tea Party), I’d like to humbly suggest that perhaps ANY movement deserves more careful consideration than Commie Tourette’s. It betrays the sorry lack of imagination that is such a major plague in the public forum. No, I take that back. It isn’t that imagination is utterly lacking. Take a look at some of the justifications people cite for using these labels and you’ll see that imagination is running amok. (Hey, if Michael Moore promotes it, it’s gotta be bright red, right? And by the way, since he makes a lot of money, that means he’s a hypocrite, because we all know that the message of OWS is that the rich are all evil bastards, right?) The problem is that it’s being used to attack rather than offer constructive input.

So if you are among those who habitually respond with the communist/socialist/Marxist chant, I’d like to issue a challenge. Try to be more creative in your insults. The old ones are causing people’s eyes to glaze over. In concocting more original epithets, you might inspire more people to pay attention to your message, if any, and that might spark a productive dialogue, which might lead to some creative solutions to the problems we all face regardless of ideological differences. Or if nothing else, you might become really skilled at venomous insults and launch a career like Rush Limbaugh’s, trashing “lubberals” and military veterans for a hefty paycheck that will land you in the top one percent.

So please, get imaginative with those smears. You just might start a revolution.

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.

Good For You, Michael Medved



Film critic Michael Medved is a right-wing loyalist, no doubt about it.  Listen to him talk, and you can almost smell the opiates of “free market capitalism” and “traditional values” on his breath. And you might even call him a right-wing propagandist, depending on how you define propaganda. So it’s a bit surprising to see him calling out some of his fellow right-wing pundits in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. After all, these folks generally stick together no matter what.

But unlike most other fanatical pundits/propagandists, Medved is capable of reason and civility, and is not entirely allergic to facts. And thus he was outraged when some of his cohorts crossed the line in their attacks on President Obama. You might ask what lines could possibly remain to be crossed. Haven’t these characters already stooped as low as they can go? But not to worry, they’ll always find a new way to get even lower.

The specific ideologues he singles out include such highly visible (and alas all too audible) figures as Rush Limbaugh and The Former Half-Term Governor of Alaska. The president, the latter claimed,  is “hell-bent on weakening in America” (by no means the nastiest or dumbest thing she’s ever said); while the charming thrice-divorced spokesman for family values went even farther: “I think we face something we’ve never faced before in the country—and that is, we’re now governed by people who do not like the country. There’s no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily.”

It’s certainly nothing new for people to accuse presidents of weakening or damaging the nation. There are plenty of people, across the ideological spectrum, who’ll tell you that George W. Bush wrought damage that was severe, if not irreparable. But in the past, such impact was generally attributed to incompetence, misguided ideology, or even self-serving motives that simply ignored the long-term national consequences. This is something quite different and quite inexcusable: the accusation that The President of the United States is a traitor, and a willful tool of destruction.

It’s true that during the Bush years, there were people who claimed that 9-11 was an inside job. But such accusations came mostly from the loony fringe, and few people paid attention.

But there is no longer any such thing as the loony fringe. Because while it’s even loonier than ever, it’s moved from the fringe to the heart of the mainstream. It’s especially amusing to hear the folks at Fox rail against the mainstream media of which they are the foremost component. On at least one occasion, Sunny Sarah derided an idiotic statement from the “lamestream media”, blissfully unaware that she was quoting someone on her own network.

And lots of people, far too many people, now pay serious attention to such irresponsible hucksterism. That’s why it’s refreshing and encouraging to see one of their own, in the person of Michael Medved, draw the line.