Thursday, March 03, 2011

Real Elitism

The third and, I think, final little installment of what is, really, a kind of overview of what I do and why. Here, we address a wide-ranging topic. I know you're just breathless with anticipation.

In the summer of 2009, as the Tea Party began to coalesce around opposition to the proposed health care reform legislation, there was quite a bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the liberal world over all those horrible folks showing up at various Town Hall events, speaking out against the bill. I, for one, supported it, and still do. I remember quite distinctly writing that more participation in the political process is always a good thing. Even if done by those with whom I disagree.

What I dislike, with all my heart, is the way far too many conservatives choose to discuss everything from budgetary concerns to the President's political philosophy. It is all well and good to oppose, say, the Affordable Care Act, even for reasons of principle. It is quite another to dub it "Obamacare" and claim the Affordable Care Act is a "government takeover of health care." It is, in fact, the exact opposite, invigorating the health insurance market by regulating certain practices that open the market up, creating a pool of customers three hundred million strong. Costs for consumers, so the theory goes, will decline, and the larger pool of potential customers present opportunities for insurance companies to rake in some serious money. Now, as I say, one can oppose these matters on principle. What one cannot, or at least should not, do is argue from the premise that the Affordable Care Act eliminates private insurance, dictates and limits treatments, and stifles innovation. None of these last three are addressed in any way by the act, and even those opponents who dislike the ACA have never argued it.

Yet, that is the way the entire issue is framed. Zombies are easier to kill than this bunch of lies; at least those you can shoot in the head. No matter how often they are shown to be wrong, counterfactual, nonsense, BS, and hokum, they keep appearing.

Why is that? The answer is as close as the TV remote.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties). Eight of us (so far) share something in common besides our conservatism: a deep frustration over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day – especially Glenn Beck’s program.


I flew out for a visit, and observed that their television was on all day long, even if no one was watching it. What channel was playing? Fox. Spending a few days in the company of the channel – especially Glenn Beck — it all became clear to me. If Fox was the window through which I saw the wider world, for hours every day, I’d be perpetually pissed off too.


Unbridled anger at the deserving enemies is a danger to the civil order, and ultimately to ourselves. Remember Thomas More’s warning to the hotheaded William Roper in A Man For All Seasons, when Roper accused More of going easy on a scoundrel who hadn’t (yet) broken the law. Roper charged More with wanting to give the Devil the benefit of the law.

“This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s!” More responded. “And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

More adds that he would give the Devil the benefit of the law “for my own safety’s sake.” There’s a profound conservative truth in this, a warning that even passion for righteousness can be turned to evil, precisely because it is passion.

The popularity of vigorous rage merchants like Beck and Olbermann are not a sign of our political culture’s vitality, but rather its decadence. We live in a time and place that puts high value on emotion, and that views emotions as self-validating. To feel something is thought by many to be sufficient evidence of its truthfulness, or at least its authenticity. This is a mark of the barbarian. I understand why post-Sixties liberals make the mistake of believing that nonsense. But conservatives?
It isn't just conservatives who find this troubling.
If they weren't so nasty most of the time I'd start to feel sorry for the Tea Party. They are getting taken for such a ride by hucksters, snake oil salesmen and billionaire puppeteers that it's getting sort of pathetic.


I'm sure there are plenty of sincere Tea Partiers out there who are getting fleeced all the time by these types. And while it's tempting to say they deserve it, it still isn't right. They are just trying to exercise their democratic right to organize and they are being manipulated and conned by a bunch of billionaire media moguls and small time hustlers. I guess that's part of the bargain too, but it's distasteful to see it happening anyway.
Were this solely the work of ideological opponents, I suppose I could be accused of the very thing I am complaining about. I am unhappy to say it isn't only conservatives who get taken for a ride by extremely rich folks who sell bullshit on TV.
Rachel Maddow made some flat-out mistakes in her first report on Wisconsin—as people often do.


On February 18, Politifact began to fact-check Maddow’s confusing report. In the process, they spoke to Lang himself; they concluded that Maddow, like several others, had gotten this matter wrong.


Please note: The fact that Maddow seems to have made this mistake isn’t a hanging offense. Nichols made the error first, and several others followed. But other people corrected themselves, and Maddow simply didn’t. Politifact challenged her report on February 18—and all was silent for almost a week. But all hell broke loose last Thursday night, with Maddow saying that she had been “slandered” when Politifact called her a “liar.”

Politifact didn’t call Maddow a liar, of course; it simply said she had made some mistakes. But Rachel Maddow is rarely wrong— if you let Rachel Maddow tell it. Last Thursday, she issued a blistering, 12-minute rant in which she hotly denied all error. Her rant was grossly unfair, and highly deceptive . . .
The closest I come to using an American news source is listening to NPR in my car to and from work. Now, some would consider that the epitome of limousine liberalism; while the news readers tend to stick to bare facts when reciting headlines, and the occasional complex story gets far more full treatment than it might otherwise receive even on a cable network that has 24 hours to fill, when it comes to politics, even NPR succumbs to the notion that facts are irrelevant trivialities when conflict arises.

For example, as events in Madison, WI heated up, there has been little to no reporting on whether or not Gov. Walker's insistence on stripping collective bargaining rights from municipal employees will actually create a healthier fiscal climate for the state. Even as he revealed his budget the other day, insisting it closed, over two years, a widening budget gap, he said it was contingent on busting the state workers' union. It seems to me this is an easy enough question to answer - will ending collective bargaining give, in Walker's words, "needed flexibility"? There certainly has been no effort of which I am aware, to answer this question, by NPR or anyone else. Instead this, like all great political discussions, is presented as a simple, two-sided, he-said/she-said affair, where any factual information is far less important, far less interesting, than repeating the talking points of each side with the meaningless "some say" qualifier. Whenever you hear a news reader use those two words, you are listening to a weasel.

In all this, we are experiencing the undermining of our ability to govern ourselves as elite news outlets shun factual content for the far more interesting fight between two sides. Now, I can grant that it is quite possible Gov. Walker, the folks in the Wisconsin State Senate who wrote the bill, and those around the state and country who support it, do so in the sincere belief it is necessary. They might also be motivated by an honestly felt distrust of organized labor in general, and municipal unions in particular. There is nothing wrong with any of this. Stopping there, however, is not giving people the information necessary to understand the stakes involved. The question at the heart of conflict should be addressed.

This isn't done because for too long any attempt to figure out what actually lies at the heart of so many of our political debates is attacked by conservative elites - beginning decades ago with Vice President Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism" speech (thank you, William Safire) - as nothing more than "liberal bias". No matter how often it is demonstrated that such a creature doesn't exist, it, like the mega-zombie lies about the ACA, continues to exist. It is the cockroach of our social life, a bit of social vermin that cannot be destroyed, and may well survive a nuclear war.

I have said it before and I will say it again. I do not care if you oppose Pres. Obama, the policies of the Democratic Party, or anything else. I am glad the rank and file Tea Party supporters are out there, concerned about important matters facing all of us, engaging in discussions on matters of fiscal policy and all the rest. I long ago gave up slandering these folks because, at heart, being a small-"d" democrat, I always prefer more participation to less, more activism to less, more opportunities for all sorts of folks to engage in the hard work of running this huge, wonderful country.

If, however, anyone uses false information to support their position, don't believe for one moment you are above being corrected. If a person receives their information from questionable sources, whether that is FOXNews or AM talk radio hosts or right-wing websites like Renew America, Little Green Footballs, or American Thinker, please know the target of my ire is not you for holding the beliefs you do, but the sources that are taking you for a ride. There are plenty of serious, thoughtful conservative sources of information. The Frum Forum, to which I linked, is one. While National Review Online is a truly pathetic place, the print version is, by and large, still quite good. There's even that mainstay of responsible Establishment conservatism, to which I subscribed for years, U.S. News and World Reports.

It is important for all of us to weigh the sources of our information. Check out anything and everything we read against any available facts. With Google, that is easy enough for the average person. Just because a report chimes with our worldview doesn't make it either true or real. We need to keep checking, getting the information from as many sources as possible. That way, we aren't taken for a ride by those who have agendas that might well not suit us. This is the way I conduct my affairs. It keeps me honest; when I am factually wrong, I admit it. I hate being so, but being human, it is bound to happen no matter how thorough and conscientious I am.

On the other hand, when I call some folks on the carpet about their repeated claim the Pres. Obama is a socialist, I am told that no matter how much I point out that actual socialists aren't too enamored of the guy's policies; that there is nothing in his public life to indicate he is anything more than a moderately liberal (at best) Democratic politician; that the claims concerning his alleged socialism are rooted in falsely reported facts and incorrect understandings of the terms involved; no matter how often this happens, I am told I am the one who is wrong. At this point, it is pretty clear those who do this aren't interested in facts, are not swayed by the way the world is, that words have no meaning. Really, that last is the greatest danger we all face.

When words cease to have any social meaning; when facts become malleable, because the words we use to talk about them are empty of any content, rest assured, we are in serious trouble.

Our contemptuous, elitist overlords - Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch; the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey; Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann - want us to stay tuned without actually thinking about what we are told. They make money, acquire power, and rob us of our critical faculties. Our democracy is the poorer for it. These are the folks we should worry about. Not the ridiculous idea that Barack Obama is a foreign-born, closet Muslim-jihadist-socialist. Rather, that this idea isn't given to you, but sold to you by folks who are laughing all the way to the bank with your money.

Virtual Tin Cup

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