When We Do It, It’s Democracy; When You Do It, It’s Tyranny

January 12, 2011

[Let me make perfectly clear, at the outset, that I’m not laying specific blame for Jared Lee Loughren’s actions at the feet of Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck, or….  Not that I expect this disclaimer to matter much.  As I’ve been reading blogs and comments sections over the last few days, it’s pretty much impossible even to mention one of the right-wing heros without drawing immediate defensive responses that have little or nothing to do with what actually got said.  But hey, it’s worth a try.]

An extended version of a discussion that just started on my Facebook page when I posted a link to Sarah Palin’s statement re: the Giffords’ shooting.

Apparently, in Palin’s world, exercises in vicious rhetoric are “healthy debate” and “democracy” when Republicans do them.  Witness–

Some signs from Tea Party rallies (there are zillions more of these, of course, but I’m trying to make the point quickly)

When Rush Limbaugh says, “What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country. He’s sitting there in jail. He knows what’s going on, he knows that…the Democrat party is attempting to find anybody but him to blame. He knows if he plays his cards right, he’s just a victim. He’s the latest in a never-ending parade of victims brought about by the unfairness of America…this guy clearly understands he’s getting all the attention and he understands he’s got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he’s not convicted of murder – but something lesser.”

When Sarah Palin herself posts an advertisement with crosshairs over the districts of Democratic incumbents whose politics she doesn’t like.

When Palin’s spokesperson denies that the crosshairs are gunsights.

When Joe Wilson yells “You lie!” at the President of the United States during a speech in front of the entire Congress and nation.

When Sarah accuses then-candidate Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists” (Former Weatherman Bill Ayers)

When Sarah adopts the riff of “real Americans” as a central campaign theme in 2008, as if to suggest that anybody who’d vote for Obama isn’t a real American.

Endless criticisms of mainstream media for “gay-friendly” depictions of relationships, leading to the degradation of marriage, the evils of children everywhere, wars (oh, hi, Westboro Baptist freaks!), and so on.

Referring to the Affordable Healthcare Act as “socialist” and claiming that it will install “death panels”

The orchestration (largely organized by Freedom Works, although many Tea Partiers may not know that) of disruptions all over the nation at health care Town Hall meetings

This list could go on and on and on and on and on.

You could (I won’t, but it’s possible to) make an argument that, in fact, these are healthy exercises in democratic process.  As Palin herself puts it, democracy requires vigorous debate and exchanges of ideas; if you don’t like what somebody does/says, vote ’em out!  And that’s true.

The problem with Palin’s statement is the double-standard it applies.  That is, it’s fine for Republicans/conservatives to depict Obama as Hitler; to blame entertainment and news media for the collapse of “family values”; to disrupt Presidential speeches by accusing the President of terrible things; and so on.  But it’s “irresponsible” (gasp), unconscionable for anybody to explore the possibility that the extremely vitriolic, vicious, violent language that she and her ilk (Beck, O’Reilly, Limbaugh and the gang) deploy at just about every opportunity, might have had even the least bit to do with what happened on Tucson on Saturday.

So when you and your friends say it, it’s democracy.  When my friends and I say it, it’s “irresponsible,” or as you and Rush often like to put it, tyrannical.

As I concluded the Facebook post this morning (this is about as concisely as I can say it, which is why I’m just using it again)–

Be quiet, Sarah. Unfortunately, the same arrogance that makes you think we care what you say keeps you from understanding when you need not to talk.

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Extremism on both sides? Let’s make this perfectly clear

January 9, 2011

I wrote a post about a month ago in which I disputed the “liberals and conservatives are equally vitriolic” claim, but feel like it’s worth saying something else about that.  A friend posted this link on Facebook this morning, and I (not to put too fine a point on it) DEFY any of you to develop evidence that liberals have planned, attempted, and executed this many acts of horrific violence–just in the last TWO YEARS.

Or put it this way: sure, there are plenty of angry lefties.  I’m one of them.  But the “Both sides are just as bad” argument is total bullshit.

 


Moderates and “Extremists”

October 31, 2010

Just read this piece on cnn.com and it prompted me to post for the first time in, oh, almost two months–

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/10/31/avlon.rally.sanity/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

I didn’t go to the Stewart/Colbert “rally,” and as I read more about it, I’m glad I didn’t.  Although it sounds like it was probably fun, and while I respect Stewart and Colbert as much as you can respect professional entertainers’ political work, the more I read, the more I realize the rally seems to have reinforced one of the great misnomers (read: bullshit) of this political period.

In simplest terms, the notion that “extremists at both ends of the spectrum” have hijacked our political discourse is crap.  Total and complete crap.  No, that’s an insult to crap.

Yes, there are extreme leftists.  Chances are, unless you’re one of them, you’ve never seen or heard of any of them.  There’s simply no equivalent on the left for the lies, hatred, vitriol, distortion, power-hunger, lies, lies, hate, violence, lies, and violence and hate of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner (who, if he’s not one of this gang sure seems to want to be), Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe, …  the list goes on and on and on and on.  None.  Amy Goodman?  Who does a radio show that about 43 people listen to?  At least she doesn’t make shit up out of whole cloth to suit her agenda.  Michael Moore?  He’s a clown, and nobody on the actual left much listens to him anymore (if we ever did anyway).  Barack Obama?  You’re an idiot if you think he’s a liberal.

The facts are quite simple.  Our political discourse has been hijacked by bad people who spew whatever shit is convenient at the time in order to scare people into ceding power to them.  It doesn’t matter if the shit they spew is the same shit they spewed last week, or last year, or whether the new shit as antithetical to the old shit.  These people will say anything (read: ANYTHING) to maintain power for themselves and their friends, no matter what the cost to the nation or the world.  And it’s THEM, along with their corporate-media lapdogs, who propagate the myth that “extremism” comes from both directions.  It doesn’t.

We’ve seen this strategy before.  Conservatives are very good at accusing liberals of doing whatever conservatives are actually doing; it allows them to deflect attention from the fact that they’re the ones doing it.  That anybody actually believes the shit they spew is, quite simply, a bonus.  Their primary purpose is to generate noisy, horrible-sounding static; the goal is to make people stop listening.  And it’s working.  Yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity was, by most accounts, a pretty much content-free feel-good session from which nothing at all emerged.  Yay.

What it will take to send the rightwing extremists back where they belong is simply to shut them off.  I don’t mean that those of us on the left should ignore their existence.  I do mean that we have an obligation to put their hate-filled shit in its proper context at every turn.  Don’t debate them head-to-head because they never, ever listen; and neither do they have any actual commitment to the positions they take, so changing their minds isn’t really a goal.  Instead, we have to make sure that the larger swath of the public, who isn’t firmly committed to left or right (they call themselves “moderate,” while I call them “uncommitted,” but that’s a topic for another day), doesn’t hear the shit unchecked.  Call out the lies.  Call out the flip-flops.  Don’t let their hypocrisy, hate, and lies slip down the memory hole.

If leftist extremists EVER have the kind of bully-pulpit the right currently does, we can talk about finding the “center” and extremism from “both sides.”  Until then, the insistence that it’s coming from both sides is simply right-wing propaganda.


Boy, did I misunderestimate

June 5, 2010

Back in January 2005, I wrote an editorial for the Philly Inquirer about my experience at the second inauguration of George W. Bush.  I’d faced some angry folks before, in my days as a Greenpeace canvasser, but nothing I’d ever seen had prepared me for the bile, anger, and general insanity of the crowd in Washington, DC.  I, a pacifist, told some loudmouth the world would be better off if he were dead.  People yelled profanities back and forth; protesters from both sides displayed Nazi insignia drawn onto posters.

My editorial was an exhortation to people at all points on the spectrum to ratchet down the anger a notch.  I registered my own anxiety at how I’d behaved and didn’t accuse anybody of being “wrong.”  I thought we’d all just gotten stressed out and needed a reminder that the tone we were taking with each other wasn’t healthy or useful.

I should have known I wasn’t getting anywhere when a week later 3 anonymous death threats showed up at my house.  Even then, I assumed the people making those threats were aberrations.  When I called the editor at the Inauirer about writing about the death threats, his response was, “I’d recommend you not do that.  You kicked the rock once and they poked their heads out.  Kick it again and there’s no telling what they’ll do.”

Fair enough.

Flash forward to 2008.  Sarah Palin didn’t invent hate, but she sure capitalized on it as she made an entire campaign out her detestably angry hatred towards everybody in the world who isn’t just like her.  Or put differently, she kicked the same rock I did, but she kept on kicking and kicking, ensuring that the nasty slugs who live under it came out.  Along with Rush Limbaugh, the entire staff of Fox News, and other rightwing media mavens, the loony Right has done little for the last couple of years besides firing up the hate machine and its victims, um, consumers.

Today’s news from Prescott, AZ for some reason just infuriated me, maybe more than anything else these monsters have done in the last few years.  If you haven’t seen the story, a rightwing radio talk show host who also serves on the Prescott City Council provoked his listeners to drive by a grade school at which there was a mural depicting the ethnically diverse student body.  This talk show host got people yelling racial epithets, very explicit ones, at kids in the school yard in an effort to get the black and Hispanic faces painted white.

It worked.  I don’t blame the principle of the school–not really, although I’d certainly have liked to see him fight this.  His rationale for caving in is that he worried about the students–remember these are grade-schoolers–exposed to that level of hatred and potential violence while they were outside being kids.

No, my real problems are with: (1) the talk show host and councilperson who provoked all this–why haven’t the citizens of Prescott run this asshole out of town on a rail? and (2) the idiots who thought it was a good idea to drive by a school screaming racist names at little kids.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Some good thinkers seem convinced that this level of racism is a product of economic insecurity.  Maybe, but so what?  Frankly, as much as I’m almost a socialist, every act of racism like this one makes me care less about people who are such racists.  Sure, economic instability might be enabling their racism, but in order for that to be true, the racism had to be there in the first place.  There are plenty of poor, hungry, scared people who don’t act like that and never would.

It’s high time that those of us with brains stand up to these idiots and let them know that kind of behavior isn’t welcome in our universe.  If they want to go hide out somewhere, learn to use their weapons, and kill each other, it’s getting harder for me not to say, “Go to it, assholes.”

UPDATED 6/5, 10 am.:  The Prescott News reports that radio station KYCA has fired Steve Blair, the councilman/talk-show host whose provocations led to this–

http://www.prescottenews.com/news/latest/steve-blair-fired-by-kyca


Obama and Socialism redux

February 10, 2010

Dear Tea Party Activists:

When are you going to get this?  I’m not talking about the Republicans in Washington, DC, or the ones who write the talking points memos.  I’m talking to you, the “activists,” the ones who believe you’re the vanguard of a revolution.

It’s hard to be the vanguard of revolution when you’re such buffoons.  Here’s a simple example of how flagrantly wrong you are–

Barack Obama is not a socialist.  He’s not anti-capitalist.  He doesn’t advocate workers’ controlling the means of production.  He doesn’t advocate government control of much of anything.

Your leadership keeps telling you contradictory things, both of which you continue to repeat willy-nilly.  On the one hand, they tell you Obama is a socialist.  On the other, they tell you he’s in bed with the banks, financial planners, pharmaceutical companies, and insurers.  If your IQ is above 20 or so, you ought to see the problem with that.  It’s NOT POSSIBLE to be both anti-corporate and in bed with corporations at the same time.

I would agree, without a second’s hesitation, that the second claim is true.  Obama is as or more pro-corporate than George W. Bush or any Republican has ever been.

So, before you hit the streets with signs accusing Barack Obama of taking two contradictory positions, open your damn eyes.  This isn’t complicated at all.

UPDATED 3:26 PM 2/10/2010:

As if you needed more evidence showing how pro-corporate Obama is (which obviously you do, or you’d quit calling him a Socialist)–

http://www.alternet.org/economy/145628/is_obama_committing_political_suicide_president_calls_obscene_wall_st._bonuses_%27part_of_the_free_market_system%27

In this article, Obama equates high salaries for talented professional athletes with large bonuses for “savvy” bankers.


President Obama and the House Republican Caucus

January 30, 2010

So, I didn’t watch this meeting yesterday (Fri, 1/29) but have read several articles reporting and analyzing it.  And I’ve read some of the transcript, and understand that I may have to update my thinking about this once I’ve gotten through it all.

In the meantime, though…

First reaction: I’m glad they did this, and did it on live TV.  There’s so much (mutual) sh*t-talking among our major parties these days that it seemed important to get them face-to-face, in a room, in front of cameras to see how PrezO and the Rs would react to each other in real time.  Whatever else I have to say about this, now or later, it’s a (sadly) momentuous event in US political history, and I agree strongly with the calls for more of it, with both Republicans and progressive Democrats.

Notice that because I’m echoing the call for PrezO to meet with progressive Democrats, I’m contending (and will until almost all his policy stances change) that Obama IS NOT A PROGRESSIVE, much less a socialist or any other such nonsense.  The jury has long been in agreement on this, and the only people who say otherwise are those who are saying it simply to be inflammatory.

At any rate, although I don’t have especially high hopes that one meeting will change the tenor of Washington politics, I do think a couple of things about the outcomes of the meeting.  First, I think PrezO clearly established himself as the voice of reason, at least up against the barbaric attacks he’s faced in the last year and change.  That was already true, of course.  Even though I disagree with his policy positions on almost everything, he’s certainly more reasonable (as a listener, thinker) than just about anybody else in the public domain right now.

When Republican opponents of healthcare reform, for example, accuse him of turning a deaf ear to “the American people” (who they routinely proclaim to speak for, even though almost every single national poll disputes this notion), they’re simply lying.  It’s very clear that he wanted a very different package, had he been able (well, willing) to script this process himself; instead, he sold various pieces of the package to a variety of constituencies in the name of being open-minded, fair, and committed to democratic practice.  Whether that’s exactly why he did it we’ll never know, of course, but to accuse him of “not listening” is, not to put to fine a point on it, bullshit.

A second outcome from yesterday’s meeting (I hope): a retreat from the brinksmanship (apologies for the gendered term!) that has passed for discussion/debate in the last 5 years, maybe longer, in this country.  Not that I expect the Republican party machinery to ratchet down their (so far successful, depending on how you measure such things) strategy of complete negation.  But it seems, from the reports I’ve seen, that even some Republicans demonstrated a sense of calm reasonability during the meeting.  We’ve suspected all along that there were still members of the party who think the Tea Partiers and Palinites are dangerous, wrong, and need to shut up; a couple of them might have shown their faces publicly yesterday.  Let’s hope the Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh/Fox News machine doesn’t flush them all down the Memory Hole once again.

One problem I’ve had with coverage and some discussion of this event: I see too many Democrats and PrezO supporters proclaiming it a “beat down,” a “victory,” a “smash,” and other fightin’ words.  This troubles me on two levels.  First, while the reptilian core of my brain likes to exact painful revenge just like most people do, I like to think that what we saw was instead the first real moment of actual exchange that PrezO’s been calling for since he started his campaign.  Second, and closely related, I don’t imagine that PrezO himself would either use these kinds of terms, or be happy that anybody else is, to describe what happened in Baltimore yesterday.  That is, even if in the dark recesses of his brain he enjoyed the clear control he exhibited over the Rs, he’d NEVER say so out loud, and he wouldn’t want anybody else to talk about it that way either.

It serves no purpose except to re-inflame the exact nastiness that made it so newsworthy in the first place.

Short version–I strongly recommend, especially to PrezO supporters and Democrats, that you BACK OFF a little from the victory dance many of you seem to be doing.  That kind of oppositional discourse does little except to reinforce itself; as many of us pacifists say, violence only gets more violence.  Same principle here, folks.


Working and hungry: a challenge to conservative dogma

November 29, 2009

In this morning’s (Sunday) NYT, the following article runs–

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/us/29foodstamps.html?_r=1&hp

Full of pathos appeals, coupled with some interesting statistics, the article tracks increasing use of food stamps across the country.  In and of itself, that’s not terribly surprising.  In a difficult economy, people need help buying food.

What I found surprising and worth mulling over are a couple of facts–

1.  Growth in food stamp use is about the same in the 600 counties where it’s historically been highest, and the 600 counties where it’s historically been lowest.  That is, use of foodstamps is increasing rapidly in places where it hasn’t before.  The article isn’t terribly precise about this next point, but suggests a couple of times that the second batch of counties tend to more conservative than the first, which means that reliance on government support is (again) penetrating into places where conservative dogma says it shouldn’t.

2.  It’s not just poor people who are using food stamps.  The article makes very clear that working people and families at many levels of the economic hierarchy need support–job losses, housing bust, medical expenses, etc, are all contributing to hunger.  At the very least, the data challenges the conservative wisdom that only lazy people rely on government support.  Of course, anybody who’s paid a lick of attention for the last 30 years has known that’s crap, a fabrication of the Reagan campaign in order to fan poor white people’s indignation, while at the same time keeping them from doing much to help themselves.

3.  Notable are a couple of interviews with self-identified conservatives who are accepting government support for (what sounds like) the first time, although depending on how you define “government support,” you could argue that they’ve been accepting it their entire lives.  It’s good to see at least one of the interviewees acknowledge that food stamps aren’t just for poor, lazy people.  One of them says something like, “These are people I could be having lunch with.”  The classism of that aside, at least she recognizes something of value.  Somebody makes the point that poor people are often just as resistant to government aid as others, which was helpful to see.  But the one that really gets me is the guy who, with one hand reaches out to grab the money, and with the other slaps people who take it.  Hypocrite.  And the guy from the Heritage Foundation who (shockingly) pulls out the example of the person who lives in an expensive home and drives a Mercedez, and generalizes from her to the entire world.

If one person abusing a system were enough to call for the destruction of the system, then the Bush administration would be responsible for having smoked the Constitution; Blackwater’s rapes and murders in Iraq would be enough to destroy the US military.  And on and on.  The double-standard here is so Orwellian that it’s hard to address (thank you, John Birch, for legitimizing this kind of political discourse).

At the end of the day, what this article demonstrates is that everything conservatives say about government aid is wrong.  The system isn’t fraught with people abusing it–that’s nothing but a lie.  The system doesn’t enable laziness–it feeds working people who can’t feed themselves because our pro-corporate, anti-worker economic policies have utterly failed them.  Self-righteousness shouldn’t dictate accepting hunger as a condition of living in the wealthiest nation in the world. And conservatives who scream bloody murder about government support at the same time they accept it need to think a little harder about what they’re screaming.  I won’t argue, as some others do, that they should refuse to accept help.  It’s not the government’s job to decide who’s worthy of care based on how they exercise their First Amendment rights.  It is, however, deeply troubling that some of these folks really seem not to understand the problem here–that if they win their arguments at Tea Parties, the very support they rely on for survival will go away.