POISONOUS LIES CAN RIP OUR COUNTRY APART

We don’t watch Fox News at our house because we understand it was founded to be a Republican “news” outlet, which is to say it’s a propaganda vehicle.  So I am ignorant of what they say and am often surprised to hear what is stated on that news source.  And of course Rush Limbaugh is so notoriously biased that it is hard to understand why anyone takes him seriously.  Even so, we know folks, good folks, who listen to these sources and seem to take them for granted, as if they were reliable sources. Politicians are different:  we expect them to overdraw an issue

But in truth I have been dumbfounded to hear what some of these people in the Republican propaganda network have been saying.  [From Bill Moyers today]

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin’ In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

These are not inadvertent misstatements; they are outright lies. Everyone who formulated these statements knew better.  So why are they making such outrageous claims?  What are they lying to accomplish?  Bill Moyers today quoted from the right-wing blog, RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

It is crucial that we recognize lies to be what they are. Whatever are their purposes they are social poison.  They weaken the fabric of trust that enables a social contract to work.

The American people have been lied to many times:  Just go to the Lincoln National Historic Site in Springfield, IL, and look at all the cartoons about him; he was treated with disdain and scorn my many in his time. Some lies erode the fabric that makes society possible.  

In fact Lincoln and his times are quite a relevant analogue to our times.  How could the American people have been brought to kill each other in the Civil War?  Only by years of bitterness and slander.  By the time the country came to war both sides believed that the other incarnated evil.  Are we on a similar path?

Lies — slanderous innuendo and outright calumny — can bring down a country.  They are the foundation for the distrust that erodes the unite of a society and they are the ground on which the abuse of other human beings is based.  Consider these cases of civil abuse:
• The Nazis were able to put into motion their Jewish death camps only after years of slanderous tales about the Jews.
• When Yugoslavia splintered into several pieces, the terrible abuses of “ethnic cleansing” were made to seem right by the slanders that were promoted by Slobodan Milosevic (on behalf of the Serbs) and Franco Tudjman (for the Croats).
• The Rwandan genocide was made possible by the persistent propaganda of a government under the control of Hutu Power, which spouted poisonous propaganda on the radio about Tutsi “cockroaches”.

Calumnious propaganda – that’s how you create the climate for civil war.  And that’s what’s being spouted out in our own radio and TV stations.  The effect is growing bitterness, scorn, and distrust on all sides.  Is it not necessary that we expose the lies for what they are? This is why I appreciate Bill Moyers.  Whatever you think about his work, he is at least trying to set the truth straight.  In today’s broadcast he concludes a critical review of what the dangerous slanderers have been saying with the following:

Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.
Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”
This man [picture of Newt Gingrich] is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.
It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.
Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media. …
On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”
At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.”

Mobilizing “the masses” and slandering a president: More reason to worry about the Republican Party

At this moment, when we all wonder about what is happening to this country, I want to reproduce here some signs of how seriously the politics in this country is broken.  What I present here has been available to the public for a long time but seems largely unremarked.  

In 2005 the BBC produced a film called The Power of Nightmares. The film was directed by Adam Curtis.  The style of presentation, in its content and background music, suggested menace, the sense of dread and suspicion that animated the two opposing leaders whose struggle preoccupied world attention after 9/11/2001:  Osama Bin Laden, representing the Islamist movement, and George W. Bush and his administration. The film was constructed to provoke, even to irritate, especially an American audience.

Whatever might be said about the film, it included some information about the opinions and activities of notable American officials that few Americans seem ever to have heard of.  So I reproduce selections from the film [drawing from the screenplay posted by Bill St Clair]. What they reveal is a body of individuals within the Republican Party who were willing to exploit the religious populations of the country through unseemly manipulation of information.  

A central point of the film was that the Neoconservatives who came to power with George W. Bush had been influenced by Leo Strauss’s notion that societies run on myth.  For these neoconservatives myth is good when it mobilizes populations to take on “good” projects, even if the “myth” is indeed untrue.  Many of the neocons entered government and participated in the Nixon and later Republican administrations.  They had ideas and agendas, but they had the problem of how to mobilize the American people to join in their particular reading of the world and what to do about it.  

Truncating much that ought to be said about the context, I here reproduce what the film reveals about the way the “neocons” got their “troops” – by appealing to the sentiments of the evangelical community.  This is the story I reproduce here.

A major shift in the conservative white community had taken place during the Carter administration.  The white “evangelical” community turned against Jimmy Carter, the only President who had a Bible class before being elected President and returned to his Bible class afterward.  The reason for this abandonment of Carter was this [according to Ralph Reed, Active Faith, p. 105]]: 

“The greatest spark of the [white evangelical] movement was not abortion but an attempt by the Carter-appointed head of the Internal Revenue Service to require Christian and parochial schools and academies to prove that they were not established to preserve segregation or they would risk losing their tax-exempt status. … For conservative evangelicals it was nothing less than a declaration of war on their schools, their churches, and their children.  More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right.” 

Ronald Reagan, a new-age president, saved the white conservative community from Jimmy Carter.  Whatever his personal beliefs were, Reagan easily articulated the concerns of the white evangelical movement.  We pick up the narrative here from “The Power of Nightmares.”   
From Part One:

Voice Over: And at this very same moment, religion was being mobilized politically in America, but for a very different purpose. And those encouraging this were the neoconservatives. Many neoconservatives had become advisers to the Presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. And as they became more involved with the Republican Party, they had forged an alliance with the religious wing of the party, because it shared their aim of the moral regeneration of America. 

IRVING KRISTOL , Founder of Neoconservative movement: The notion that a purely secular society can cope with all of the terrible pathologies that now affect our society, I think has turned out to be false. And that has made me culturally conservative. I mean, I really think religion has a role now to play in redeeming the country. And liberalism is not prepared to give religion a role. Conservatism is, but it doesn’t know how to do it. 

VO: By the late ‘70s, there were millions of fundamentalist Christians in America. But their preachers had always told them not to vote. It would mean compromising with a doomed and immoral society. But the neoconservatives and their new Republican allies made an alliance with a number of powerful preachers, who told their followers to become involved with politics for the first time. 

JAMES ROBISON , Fundamentalist Preacher, 1980: I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closet! It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches, and change America! We must do it!

Rev. Robinson epitomized the particular way the religious right described those who supported   progressive change in America:  as “radicals, perverts, liberals, leftists, and Communists.”  This became the rhetoric by which the conservative leaders  of the country, especially in the South, characterized the progressive movement in America.

PAUL WEYRICH , Religious activist – Republican Party: The conservative movement, up to that point, was essentially an intellectual movement. It had some very powerful thinkers, but it didn’t have many troops. And as Stalin said of the Pope, “where are his divisions?”. Well, we [Republicans] didn’t have many divisions. When these folks became active, all of a sudden the conservative movement had lots of divisions. We were able to move literally millions of people. And this is something that we had literally no ability to do prior to that time. 

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Literally millions? 

WEYRICH : Literally millions. 

Note Weyrich’s terms:  The Republican Party was able to “move literally millions” of evangelical Christians by harnessing the agenda of social conservatives in the South to rhetoric of the evangelical tradition.  Some evangelical preachers may have felt it accorded with their own social perspective; at least some became useful voices for the politically conservative movement.  Conservative rhetoric worked for the evangelicals who believed it as well as for the neoconservatives who merely found it useful.  

VO: And at the beginning of 1981, Ronald Reagan took power in America. The religious vote was crucial in his election, because many millions of fundamentalists voted for the first time. And as they had hoped, many neoconservatives were given power in the new administration. Paul Wolfowitz became head of the State Department policy staff, while his close friend Richard Perle became the Assistant Secretary of Defense. And the head of Team B, Richard Pipes, became one of Reagan’s chief advisers. The neoconservatives believed that they now had the chance to implement their vision of America’s revolutionary destiny—to use the country’s power aggressively as a force for good in the world, in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies.

From PART TWO

WILLIAM KRISTOL , Chief of Staff to the Vice President, 1988-92: For Strauss, liberalism produced a decent way of life, and one that he thought was worth defending, but a dead end where nothing could be said to be true; one had no guidance on how to live, everything was relative. Strauss suggests that maybe we didn’t just have to sit there and accept that that was our fate. Politics could help shape the way people live, that politics could help shape the way that people live, teach them some good lessons about living decent and noble human lives. And can we think about what cultures, and what politics, what social orders produce more admirable human beings? I mean, that whole question was put back on the table by Strauss, I think. 

VO: The neoconservatives set out to reform America. And at the heart of their project was the political use of religion. Together with their long-term allies, the religious right, they began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. It became known as the “culture wars.” 

[ TITLE : Christian Coalition commercial ] 

VO (on commercial) : Your tax dollars are being used to sponsor obscene and pornographic displays. 

PAT ROBERTSON : I don’t like Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, being dumped in a vat of urine by a homosexual, and then have my money to pay for it! I think that’s obscene. 

ROBERTSON : Satan, be gone! Out from this [unintelligible]! C’mon! 

VO: For the religious right, this campaign was a genuine attempt to renew the religious basis of American society. But for the neoconservatives, religion was a myth, like the myth of America as a unique nation that they had promoted in the Cold War. Strauss had taught that these myths were necessary to give ordinary people meaning and purpose, and so ensure a stable society.… 

MICHAEL LIND , Journalist and former neoconservative: For the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a “noble lie.” It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order.… 

LIND : In being a kind of secretive elitist approach, Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert vision which they want to use to effect change in history, while concealing parts of it from people incapable of understanding it. 

VO: Out of this campaign, a new and powerful moral agenda began to take over the Republican Party. It reached a dramatic climax at the Republican Convention in 1992, when the religious right seized control of the party’s policy-making machinery. George Bush became committed to running for President with policies that would ban abortion, gay rights, and multiculturalism. Speakers who tried to promote the traditional conservative values of individual freedom were booed off the stage.…  

VO: For the neoconservatives, the aim of this new morality was to unite the nation. But in fact, it had completely the opposite effect. Mainstream Republican voters were frightened away by the harsh moralism that had taken over their party. They turned instead to Bill Clinton, a politician who connected with their real concerns and needs, like tax and the state of the economy.…. 

VO: At the end of 1992, Bill Clinton won a dramatic victory. But the neoconservatives were determined to regain power. And to do this, they were going to do to Bill Clinton what they had done to the Soviet Union: they would transform the President of the United States into a fantasy enemy, an image of evil that would make people realize the truth of the liberal corruption of America. 

….. 

VO: But despite all his efforts, Kenneth Starr could find no incriminating evidence in Whitewater. Nor could he find any evidence to support any of the sexual scandals that had come from the Arkansas Project. Until finally, his committee stumbled upon Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton denied. And in that lie, the neoconservative movement believed they had found what they had been looking for: a way to make the American people see the truth about the liberal corruption of their country. A campaign now began to impeach the President. And in the hysteria, the whole conservative movement portrayed Clinton as a depraved monster who had to be removed from office. But yet again, the neoconservatives had created a fantasy enemy by exaggerating and distorting reality. 

JOE CONASON , Author ‘The Hunting of the President’ : They were trapped by a mythological person that they had constructed, or persons—the Clintons, these scheming, terrible people who they, the noble pursuers, were going to vanquish. I think, in the leadership of conservatism, during the Clinton era there was an element of corruption. There was an element of a willingness to do anything to achieve the goal of bringing Clinton down. There was a way in which the people who perceived Clinton as immoral behaved immorally themselves. They ended up behaving worse than the people who they were attacking. …

They commissioned David Brock to uncover every possible evidence of unseemly behavior in Bill Clinton’s past.  This is the story the film presents of that period, based on an interview with David Brock himself. 
From PART THREE

VO: Since then, Brock has turned against the neoconservative movement. He now believes that the attacks on Clinton went too far, and corrupted conservative politics. 

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Was Whitewater true? 

BROCK : No! I mean, there was no criminal wrongdoing in Whitewater. Absolutely not. It was a land deal that the Clintons lost money on. It was a complete inversion of what happened. 

INTERVIEWER : Was Vince Foster killed? 

BROCK : No. He killed himself. 

INTERVIEWER : Did the Clintons smuggle drugs? 

BROCK : Absolutely not. 

INTERVIEWER : Did those promoting these stories know that this was not true, that none of these stories were true? 

BROCK : They did not care.  

INTERVIEWER : Why not? 

BROCK : Because they were having a devastating effect. So why stop? It was terrorism. Political terrorism. 

INTERVIEWER : But you were one of the agents. 

BROCK : Absolutely. Absolutely.

So it turned out that none of the accusations against Carter were true and the Republican leadership seems to have known it all the time.  The whole point was to slander Clinton.

And it was to continue appealing to the loyalty of the evangelical “troops” who could be persuaded to support the Republican Party even if the grounds of their appeal were cynical:  There is little evidence that the Neocons shared the deep convictions of the evangelicals whom they sought to use for their projects.

I post this material because I suspect few Americans are aware of these affairs.  I have lamented that the Republican Party seems tragically to have gone astray, to have lost its authentic moral fiber.  These comments by individuals who seem to have been directly involved in the movement since the 1980s give us some clues as to how this misadventure took form. 

What they are not saying … How this country got into its mess

When it comes to elections we all seem to have short memories.  That may be the reason that politicians say
the same things over and over again, and why some of them don’t mind contradicting themselves.  But
what I don’t understand is why some history has been completely ignored in the
recent political debates.  
Here is what I
remember about how my country got into the mess it’s in:

  • When
    George W. Bush became President he was given a prize that scarcely any
    president has ever received in American history:  A budget surplus.                 So what
    did his administration do with it?  Improve
    the highway infrastructure?  Update
    the aging bridges across the country?  Install a national optical fiber system?  Provide the country with comprehensive
    wi-fi?  No, they gave the
    money “back” as a “tax cut.”  For most
    people it was a couple hundred dollars; for those with high incomes the return was several thousand dollars; for instance, if your taxable income was between $200,000 and $499,000, your return was $7400 [NYT 10/19/10, from Tax Policy Institute].  So who were the new administration catering to?
  • When
    the 9/11/01 attack took place the Bush administration was given world-wide
    support and sympathy — another gift not given to many presidents before him; even in Iran the
    young people held a minute of silence in honor of the American dead before
    a soccer game.  And indeed the American attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan
    was widely supported; no one had much sympathy for the Taliban, and no one
    cared when thousands of them died and the rest were forced to flee into Pakistan.  But within a year
    the Bush administrated turned their attention away from that conflict, leaving the job unfinished.  They turned away in order to attack Saddam Hussein in Iraq; they
    even claimed he had been behind the 9/11/01 attack [remember this?] in order to
    justify their refocus on Iraq.  So
    doing, they awakened the many confused and frustrated unemployed young men all over the
    Middle East, to give them the sense that America was attacking the whole Muslim world — and a cause to fight for.  The attack on Iraq squandered the good-will
    of the world, and revived a nearly crushed AlQaeda.  
  • The Bush administration made no provision for the costs of the two wars they
    were involved in.  Those costs were taken off-line when the budget was being discussed; the skyrocketing costs of the wars were hardly discussed in Congress.  In those days Paul Ryan and others who now present themselves as budget hawks signed off on the Bush budgets every time.
  • The
    result was that by the time the Bush administration left office the
    economy was in the tank — for many reasons, but one of them was the unfunded wars.  When the Bush administration left office the budget was in deficit.  Their successor was dealt one of the worst hands of any administration since 1930.  
The people who participated in policies that
left this country in a mess now present themselves as eager to correct the errors of George W. Bush’s successor.  Ryan voted for the profligate policies that caused the deficit that he now deplores.    
Why would the American people want Ryan and those who supported the Bush administration to come back?  How could anyone want them back?

The profligacy of the Bush administration now seems like it was ages in the past — which is where the Romney/Ryan ticket wants it to be.  Hardly anyone remembers just how our country got to this point.  This story remains unmentioned, and is almost forgotten.  

Bahrain’s abuse of its own citizens — with American complicity

We and most of the world rightly have condemned the Syrian government’s abuse of its own people, but what about the similar situation in Bahrain?  There is a difference:  In Bahrain there is a Naval base that is crucial to the United Sates in the Gulf.  So the US tolerates the abuse of the people in Bahrain and condemns the abuse of people in Syria.  

Shame on us. 

How can the United States not  be considered complicit in these abuses of the Bahrani public?  

Bahrain has convicted its own doctors for treating the injured in public demonstrations
Bahrain convicts medics for role in uprising – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

And Bahrain has, with the rest of the world looking elsewhere, continued to abuse their own people with impunity
Bahrain: Shouting in the dark – Programmes – Al Jazeera English

Newt’s Outrage and South Carolina’s “moment of enthusiasm”

In the Republican debate in Charleston last night Newt Gingrich scored a standing ovation by his response to a question about the statement by one of his divorced wives that he had asked her to agree to “an open marriage” – that is, to “share him” with his mistress Callista Bisek, who is now his wife.  This was his response:

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office.  I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

The response of the audience was the first of two standing ovations. 
Gingrich’s turning the question back on the news media is a familiar political device.  What alarms me is the response of the crowd, who not only accepted his response but endorsed it enthusiastically.  The question was obliterated by Newt’s outrage and the crowd’s enthusiasm. 
Consider the issue raised by the question:  How should the American public respond to a claim by an ex-wife of a candidate for President that he had asked her for “an open marriage” so that he could continue his liaison with a mistress and still retain an appearance of a faithful married man?  Also, how did this private proposal comport with Gingrich’s public behavior at the time?  Could this have been precisely during the time when he was condemning Bill Clinton for his extra-marital liaisons?  Gingrich would keep up appearances while presenting himself as a paragon of virtue. 
That was then.  Now is different, he says:  He has admitted to mistakes and now has reformed:  He is a good Catholic now; he’s got religion.  Now he would have the world understand that it is improper for anyone – and anyone in the media especially – to ask if his behavior in the past is worthy of someone who aspires to be President of the United States.  As he was outraged at the behavior of Bill Clinton he is now outraged at the behavior of the media who want to know more about his own behavior. 
To this outrage there was an audience in South Carolina that would join him enthusiastically in taking offense.  Presumably they agreed that the private behavior of a candidate for President should not be examined, even if it contrasts with the image he even then sought to present of himself. 
Their behavior brings to mind two statements of great nineteenth century social scientists on the behavior of crowds.  One of them said:

[Referring to “a section of civil society [that] emancipates itself and attains universal domination:] No class in society can play this part [of attaining universal domination] unless it can arouse, in itself and in the masses, a moment of enthusiasm in which it associates and mingles with society at large … and is recognized as the general representative of this society”

The author is suggesting that for a “section of civil society” to attain “universal domination” it must “arouse” in the masses “a moment of enthusiasm” through which it “associates and mingles with society at large” and appears to be “the general representative of the society.”  Such a moment of enthusiasm took place last night, when a crowd saw this man Newt Gingrich to be a “general representative” of their sentiments.
The other social scientist who wrote about crowd behavior had this to say:

The great movements of enthusiasm, indignation, and pity in a crowd do not originate in any one of the particular individual consciousness.  They come to each one of us from without and can carry us away in spite of ourselves… Once the crowd has dispersed, that is, once these social influences have ceased to act upon us and we are alone again, the motions which have passed through the mind appear strange to us, and we no longer recognize them as ours. We realize that these feelings have been impressed upon us …  It may even happen that they horrify us, so much were they contrary to our nature.  Thus, a group of individuals, most of whom are perfectly inoffensive, may, when gathered in a crowd, be drawn into acts of atrocity …

I hope that the good people of South Carolina will now, in retrospect, reflect on what happened, what the issues are, and what their response should have been. 

(And who were the social scientists I have quoted above?  And from what publications?)