Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Matt Taibbi winces in the face of idiocy so you don't have to

Don't miss Matt Taibbi's newest Rolling Stone article, "Tea & Crackers." He goes on the long, pointless excursion to find out just what is up with Tea Partiers, and finds that they're pretty much being led around by the noses. Duped, if you will.

Along the way, Taibbi hits on exactly my explanation for all the "anti-government" fronting these Medicare beneficiaries do.
Early in his campaign, Dr. [Rand] Paul, the son of the uncompromising libertarian hero Ron Paul, denounced Medicare as "socialized medicine." But this spring, when confronted with the idea of reducing Medicare payments to doctors like himself — half of his patients are on Medicare — he balked. This candidate, a man ostensibly so against government power in all its forms that he wants to gut the Americans With Disabilities Act and abolish the departments of Education and Energy, was unwilling to reduce his own government compensation, for a very logical reason. "Physicians," he said, "should be allowed to make a comfortable living."

Those of us who might have expected Paul's purist followers to abandon him in droves have been disappointed; Paul is now the clear favorite to win in November. Ha, ha, you thought we actually gave a shit about spending, joke's on you. That's because the Tea Party doesn't really care about issues — it's about something deep down and psychological, something that can't be answered by political compromise or fundamental changes in policy. At root, the Tea Party is nothing more than a them-versus-us thing. They know who they are, and they know who we are ("radical leftists" is the term they prefer), and they're coming for us on Election Day, no matter what we do — and, it would seem, no matter what their own leaders like Rand Paul do.
I was going to make this a short post, but the article is too full of flavor bursts of awesome.

Taibbi mostly focuses on the Tea Party's inevitable cooptation into the Republican party, especially as illustrated by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul's change from opposition to embrace of the Republican establishment.

But I savor the Us-versus-Them-isms. Here's one where Taibbi has asked a Tea Partier, whose wife is on Medicare and who as a tax appraiser has received check after check from the government, why he's anti-government spending.
"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."

"But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole life!"

"Yeah," he says, "but I don't make very much."
Them. The undeserving and ill-defined them!. When will True Americans be free of their tyranny?
It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I'm an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I'm a radical communist? I don't love my country? I'm a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are.

It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority.
I'll go one further and say that calling the Tea Partiers racist is lazy and short-sighted. Sure, a lot of their attitudes amount to racism, but that's just a fragment of their whole oppositional outlook.
"They're [the medical death panels are] going to look at your age, your vocation in life, your health, your income. . . ." says a guy active in the Northern Kentucky Tea Party.

"Your race?" I ask.

"Probably," he says.

"White males need not apply," says another Tea Partier.

"Like everything else, the best thing you can do is be an illegal alien," says a third. "Then they won't ask you any questions."

An amazing number of Tea Partiers actually believe this stuff, and in the past year or so a host of little-known politicians have scored electoral upsets riding this kind of yahoo paranoia.
Go give it a read!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Both Sides Do It

It seems a little unfair to pick on the right-wing conspiracy theorists and tribalists exclusively, I admit. But the simple fact of the matter is that you're not going to find this kind of lunacy and outright disrespect for reality in a Democratic Senatorial candidate:

The clip (lovingly compiled by Talking Points Memo) includes these classics:
-"...Because I dabbled in witchcraft; I hung around people who were doing these things"
-"One of my first dates with a witch was on a Satanic alter, and I didn't know it."

-"And then there's also the issue of murder, with Vincent Foster. That's a much more serious charge [against Bill Clinton] than failing to seek legal advice -- and yet we're all just blowing that off."

-"The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. You can't masturbate without lust!"

-"The total amount that we're spending currently on AIDS research and care with the Ryan White Act and Medicaid is over $8 billion, and our position is that there is a gross, disproportionate allocation of funds when it comes to treatment of AIDS, as opposed to the number-one killer, which is heart disease."

-"A lot of the money that we're spending goes to things that we know will not prevent AIDS, but will indeed continue to spread the disease. When a lot of our money goes to distribute condoms in high schools, when a lot of our money goes to distribute material that is literally pornographic..."

-"But these groups admitted that the report that said, 'Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey' -- now we're using this to clone humans."
[Bill O'Reilly]: "Let them admit anything they want -- They won't do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on."
[O'Donnell]: They are doing that here in the United States! American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."

So, "witchcraft" and Satan are real things, the U.S. spends too much on a deadly communicable disease, condoms and "pornography" cause AIDS, American companies are cloning humans and cross-breeding mice and people to make super-brained mice!

And that's just this one Tea Party-backed candidate -- there's still Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, Debra Molina, various Tea Party leaders like Mark Williams, and their conspiracy factories Betsy McCaughey, Alex Jones, Orly Taitz, and on and on and on.

But Dennis Kucinich believes in UFOs!

Folks like The Beast's John Avlon depend on drawing a false equivalence between liberals and conservatives -- possibly because they're blind, but more likely because they're unwilling to take sides, believing that stance as a mark of true objectivity.

Heck, I'm reading Avlon's book, "Wingnuts -- How the radical fringe is hijacking America", and the best examples he can find for the left-leaning fringe include no Democratic leaders, candidates or officeholders -- just Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, Keith Olbermann, (who he says "took heat" when contributors to their contest compared Bush to Hitler!), and various protest signs. The rest of the book is an enumeration of conservative wingnuts. But he sticks to the centrist article of faith that "both sides do it," despite the evidence of his lying eyes.

The Dupes are a right-wing phenomenon at this point in history. It's about time we all recognized it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Misunderstand, Exaggerate, Fear ... and WIN!

What is it with right-wing tribalists and insidious conspiracies? Why the incessant need to exaggerate their enemies' threat/size/power/organizing prowess?
['s Robert] Spencer has been one of a handful of neocons -- along with Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, among others -- who have been sounding the alarm about Sharia law for years. They warn that Sharia, a system of laws defined by the Koran, is taking hold in the United States, and that it will eventually threaten the very Constitution.

Their warnings, so long spoken from the fringe, are now at the heart of today's anti-mosque rhetoric.
I've mentioned before the Tea Partiers' (and other right-wing partisans') weird inability to understand their enemies' motivations -- for want of a better word, their total lack of empathy. Maybe their mirror neurons are malfunctioning. Anyway, this belief that Teh Enemy is covertly working to undermine Amerka from within is somehow related. Certainly, ignoring your opponent's real motivations makes it easy to ascribe your own, but I don't see why Tea Party Dupes and their ilk are so ready to believe that their opponents are so formidable.

Now, it's easy to understand why Tea Party leaders would want to exaggerate Teh Dread Sharia Law Threat!!!11one! Enhancing group cohesiveness and fervor, of course. But is it just the bizarre, overriding in-group loyalty and "follower" mentality that causes the Dupes to fall for this kind of bullshit?
Gingrich has, likewise, seized on these Sharia fears (as have less famous politicians in Oklahoma). At the Values Voter Summit last weekend, he called for the U.S. government to ban Sharia law.

"We should have a federal law that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States," Gingrich said to a standing ovation. "No judge will remain in office that tried to use sharia law."
'Course, it's nothing new:
Proponents of McCarthyism claimed that the CPUSA was so completely under Moscow's control that any American Communist was inevitably a puppet of the Soviet Union. As J. Edgar Hoover put it in a 1950 speech, "Communist members, body and soul, are the property of the Party." This attitude was not confined to arch-conservatives. In 1940, the American Civil Liberties Union ejected founding member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, saying that her membership in the Communist Party was enough to disqualify her as a civil libertarian. In the government's prosecutions of Communist Party members under the Smith Act (see above), the prosecution case was based not on specific actions or statements by the defendants, but on the premise that a commitment to violent overthrow of the government was inherent in the doctrines of Marxism-Leninism. Passages of the CPUSA's constitution that specifically rejected revolutionary violence were dismissed as deliberate deception.

In addition, it was often claimed that the Party did not allow any member to resign, so a person who had been a member for a short time decades previously could be considered as suspect as a current member. Many of the hearings and trials of McCarthyism featured testimony by former Communist Party members such as Elizabeth Bentley, Louis Budenz, and Whittaker Chambers, speaking as expert witnesses.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tea Partiers don't mind a little war spending; it's spending on others that really hurts

The Iraq War's cost is way beyond their original estimate of $3 trillion, say economist Joseph Stiglitz and public policy academic Linda Bilmes in the WaPo today.
This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration's 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war.

That means the war cost 50 to 60 times as much as Bush said it would.

Where were the Tea Partiers? Perhaps waving flags somewhere. If I'm right about Tea Partiers' Us-versus-Them outlook, war spending feels acceptable, while social spending -- which helps another category of "Them" -- is just an outrage. Here's an April NYT/CBS poll comparing Tea Partiers' views with those of average Americans on spending on the poor:

Tea Partiers also choose against the government directly helping others when it comes to spending on "jobs" versus the "federal budget deficit":

But ask them to choose between money for themselves or the deficit, and priorities change:

Who did they blame for the deficit in April, despite the war?

Of course. Not Bush.

Where did the deficit really come from? The NYT's David Leonhardt counted it up last year, concluding:
There are two basic truths about the enormous deficits that the federal government will run in the coming years.

The first is that President Obama’s agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying. The second is that Mr. Obama does not have a realistic plan for eliminating the deficit, despite what his advisers have suggested.

Here's a graph Matt Yglesias made from that research (note the date on all this is June 9, 2010).

But we'll be hearing a lot more about all that awful health care reform than we did about the war. That money is for helping Our side or hurting Their side, and that's final.

Oh, and here's Stiglitz and Bilmes on the war's effect on the debt. When you're ideologically committed to more and more tax cuts, stuff like this is easy to forget.
There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn't include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt.

As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis -- and those fiscal woes compounded the downturn.

Friday, September 03, 2010

It's Us versus Them, and they've got the Illuminati

A couple days ago, a close relative of mine said something that perfectly encapsulates a lot of conservative thinking. It's like a fractal chunk of right-wing thought, as I see it.
We heard on the radio that under health care reform, we will have to pay for treating drug addicts.

It's like a crystal cube, it's so perfect. All the parts are there -- you only have to tweak it a bit to get almost any conservative whine.

--Credibility attributed to a forgotten / Questionable Source?

--The Victims are "We", "Us", "Americans", "Real Americans" or other tribal identification that excludes the Villains?

--The Villains are members of a despised out-group who gain from suffering Victims?

--The implication of a Conspiracy or malevolent tendency among some Villains that harms the Victims?
Check -- in this case, apparently nobody knew 'till now that the Democrats' Affordable Care Act would bring about this indignity.

--A profound Lack of Empathy or the inability to understand another person's point of view?

--And, of course, the Conflation of two Villains or the implication that they're working together?
Check! Here, it's the Democratically controlled Congress and the Obama Administration in cahoots with drug addicts.

These are the basic elements driving the conservative / Tea Party / Birther / John Birch freakout we're seeing, and it's nothing new. What's weird is that anyone takes these people seriously -- or rather that there's no concerted effort to single them out, ridicule them, and use their idiotic pronouncements as political weapons against Republicans.

I'm not talking about all Republicans, of course. But there is a significant portion whose reasoning, attribution of source credibility, and grasp of simple facts about the world are completely useless. And these folks have always been there, always will be. Sometimes they're on the left, but the bulk of them have been with conservatives for a long time now.

As it happens, these Dupes, as I call them, were the only adults I knew until about age 14. They fascinate me endlessly -- they're normal, caring, thinking people who somehow believe that nefarious forces are working together in the shadows to screw over good folks.