Friday, January 18, 2013

A World Of Ideas

Remember the election?  It was in all the papers.  President Obama won what turned out to be an easy victory over his Republican rival.  In a year in which they were particularly vulnerable, Democratic candidates not only won enough to hold the Democratic majority in the US Senate; they actually increased their majority.  While the Republicans continue to maintain their majority in the House of Representatives, Republican candidates received one million fewer votes than Democratic candidates.  Altogether, it was a banner election year for the Democratic Party.

And the tide continues to roll on.  All major polling on attitudes toward the President, the Congress, and the American people's attitudes toward the two major parties continue to demonstrate a strong swing toward the Democratic Party.  Even as the House Majority and Senate Minority try to find ways of slowing or even stopping legislative action from the Democrats, the Republican leadership is held responsible by the American people for lack of action.

Yet, nothing seems to change, does it?  One would expect a press corps inured by 30 years of GOP dominance not to take the Democrats or liberal ideas seriously.  Still, whether it is the major figures in control of the various parts of the Executive or Legislative branches or our most highly-paid commentators upon our national life, one grows weary looking for a sign the election made any difference whatsoever.

Frustrated myself over the near-hysteria I witness daily, as people carry on about Barack Obama's tyranny, and the various threats to impeach or otherwise curtail efforts by the Executive Branch to work on solutions to our gun violence problem, I realized the answer was both obvious and sitting right in front of me.

As those crazy kids say these days: It's all about the Benjamins.

Nothing made that more clear to me than reading this piece from Rick Perlstein, published this past fall in The Baffler.  A marvelous history of the rise of Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich, the grand poo-bahs of right-wing fundraising (I remember coming across their names back when I was in college; you could occasionally see Viguerie doing TV spots, voicing various right-wing verities with a practiced smile that reminded me of every con-artist I'd ever seen portrayed on television), Perlstein does a masterful job linking the insane world of the wingnut money machine, a whole network of what he identifies quite correctly as the snake-oil salesmen who sell everything from pyramid schemes to real-life snake-oil to gullible readers of right-wing literature, and the culmination of this whole history of untruth in Mitt Romney Presidential campaign.  Perlstein's conclusion is both correct and devastating: Romney's unending dishonesty wasn't a flaw in the system.  It was the fruit of a system that has relied, since the misty days after the defeat of Barry Goldwater, on dishonesty as a way to separate people from their pocket change.

We liberals tend to believe that things like good ideas that work, actual evidence from the world in which we all live, and the democratic process giving us elected officials to enact the policies or support the laws they said they would do when they campaigned; we believe these things matter.  While the fundamental anti-democratic spirit of the right is both well-known and well-documented, what Perlstein does in this article is make clear how much fundamental dishonesty in the pursuit of money, rather than any real desire to win elections, sway public opinion, or change public policy, lies at the heart of the right-wing political machine.  The argument between the left and the right in America doesn't really exist because each side is engaged in completely different activities.

When we read stories that Karl Rove just signed another multi-year contract with FOXNews, after a very public - and quite funny - on-air flame out after his months and years of mendacity caught up with him, viewers of Fox should understand just how much contempt the network has for you.  When we read stories that a recently elected Senator has set up a Political Action Committee that raised over $1.6 million, spending only $78,000 actually supporting candidates for elected office, we shouldn't be surprised.  Just after the election, having read story after story about a vaunted Romney GOTV effort that failed miserably, we read political autopsies that included quotes from leaders of this alleged vote-getting machine who were surprised that Obama's GOTV organization actually . . . got people to the polls!  They couldn't believe the Obama campaign wasn't a get-rich-quick scheme, paying people to produce good soundbites for local and national news organizations.

That's why so many liberal bloggers still get accused of secretly pocketing money from George Soros.  On the right, all sorts of entities, organizations, individuals, and even corporations pay a whole lot of money to news aggregators, blogs, and multi-media "personalities", so they just assume folks on the left are doing the same thing.  These accusations give up the game, however, demonstrating as they do the fundamental dishonesty of too many right-wing pundits.  They are honest enough that they're in it for the money; they assume folks on the left are, too.

If you see and hear claims that the President has a secret plan to confiscate all the weapons in America prior to establishing UN Agenda 21, remember: These claims are birthed not in a careful consideration of the actual evidence from the President's actions or policies.  Rather, they are lifted from fundraising letters from the NRA and Glenn Beck's Citadel, who promise either to fight the usurpation of power by a tyrant or a haven of freedom from the creeping authoritarianism.  All of it, along with miracle cures for cancer, online get-rich-quick schemes, and the promise of a better tomorrow can be yours, as long as you send these organizations - and far too many more - your money.

In a world of ideas, the idea that no one ever got rich overestimating the intelligence of the American people continues to provide more than a decent living for phony politicians, and the hucksters and snake-oil organizations of the American Conservative movement.

Virtual Tin Cup

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