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SUMMER ESCAPE TO THE PLANET OF FEAR! Embellishing facts every step of the way, a young liberal conquers his fear: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, AUGUST 12, 2010

The numbers aren’t looking real good: Here at THE HOWLER, we love Michael Moore; we thought Sicko was a brilliant piece of work, one of the most skillful arguments we’ve ever seen on any subject. But that doesn’t mean that he’s always right, and we thought he slightly misfired on Tuesday’s Countdown. Moore was speaking about Robert Gibbs’ recent rant:

MOORE (8/10/10): Well, of course, it’s true that—I mean, the people— the left or the liberal—the liberal majority elected Barack Obama. I mean, the majority of Americans didn’t want the other way. In fact, they didn’t want it in such a large way, they not only elected him by millions of votes over John McCain, they wanted a solid majority in both the House and the Senate—a huge majority. That’s what Americans said they wanted, because they wanted real change.

And instead what they’ve gotten is a sort of, you know, backing away every time that it comes to a fight with the people who put us in this horrible situation to begin with. And it was just so odd the first thing off the top of his head was, "Yes, you know, these people want Canadian healthcare." Well, yes!

(LAUGHTER)

Because what’s Canadian health care except everyone is covered, which they won’t be still, and it’s going to cost a third to half less, which is what it costs in Canada for what we pay. And, oh, by the way, people live almost three years longer than we do in Canada.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

MOORE: So—so, what— I just didn’t understand why that was the first thing out of his, out of his mouth was the Canadian health care was the big thing they’re worried about.

It’s odd to see a humorist puzzled by a bit of hyperbole. Other liberals have gone even farther, complaining that no liberal ever said we want to get rid of the Pentagon, the second part of Gibbs’ rant. At such moments, we really do wonder if life is just a practical joke, staged by the gods.

Predictably, Big Eddie played it louder and dumber. Here he was that very same night, missing the point completely:

SCHULTZ (8/10/10): The “Battleground Story” tonight. We’re inside the locker room on this one: Robert Gibbs’ assault on the progressive base.

What’s this all about? In a stunning interview with The Hill, the White House press secretary unloaded on the very people who helped get his boss elected. He lashed out because the left is holding the president accountable to his campaign promises. Gibbs said this. "I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, crazy. It’s crazy," he says.

Gibbs then laid out what exactly he thinks is crazy. The press secretary dismissed “the professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying that they will be satisfied when we have a Canadian health care, and we will have eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality. Gibbs thinks that universal health care is crazy? It`s a cornerstone of the Democratic Party platform, but the real kick in the teeth is this. Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as health care reform, Gibbs said, "They wouldn`t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

As big loud demagogues frequently do, Schultz pretended that Gibbs had been insulting his viewers, failing to note that he himself may have been the target. But might we help this big dumb slab comprehend that comment on health care? Presumably, Gibbs wasn’t saying that Canadian health care is “crazy,” since Obama has frequently praised such a system himself. Presumably, he was saying that it was politically unattainable. If so, the blame lies in part with people like Schultz, not with people like Moore.

Here at THE HOWLER, we would love to see Canadian health care come to this country. (As we’ve often mused from the comedy stage: “If we can’t make Canada pay for our health care, what do we have an army for?”) Why might that be unattainable? Because powerful forces on the right have demonized this type of health care for decades, as “intellectual leaders” of the “liberal world” sat by and stared into air. Moore is a hero of intellectual labor for the educational efforts he made in his film. And Schultz? Do you remember what happened when this big dumb slab was challenged about Canadian health care by a no-name back-bencher from the Arizona state legislature? If not, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/09. Prepare to avert your eyes.

Many criticisms of Obama “from the left” have made perfect sense. (File under Greenwald, Glenn.) Others have not, sometimes involving questions of what is attainable, given the shape of our national politics. We thought about the shape of our politics when we read this Digby post, in which she linked to Kevin Drum. Speculating about Gibbs’ statement, Kevin offered this thought:

DRUM (8/11/10): Once again, we see the fundamental difference between left and right when it comes to practical politics. A third of the country self-identifies as conservative, so it makes sense for Republicans to pander to them at all times. Conversely, only about 20 percent of the country self-identifies as liberal, so Democrats are better off pandering to the center—and one way to do that is to make sure that centrists understand in no uncertain terms that Democrats aren't part of the fringe left.

We don’t know about Kevin’s overall theory, but we were struck by his numbers—numbers Digby massaged down a bit in her post, where she said that 20 percent self-identify as Democrats versus 30 percent as Republicans.

In fact, the numbers are worse. Gallup has polled this matter for years. On June 25, the Huffington Post reported Gallup’s latest finding; 42 percent now call themselves “conservative,” versus 20 percent who say “liberal.” This two-to-one ratio has generally obtained since at least 1992. For a long-term Gallup chart, click here.

This is only one measure of political sentiment. (For example, more people will typically identify as “Democrats” than as “Republicans.” Click here.) But what do all those people mean when they call themselves “conservative?” It’s amazing how rarely we liberals seem to wonder or ask. Beyond that, what sorts of things do those people believe about various issues, such as Canadian health care? Over the past many years, those people have been aggressively disinformed about a wide range of political issues—generally, as the “liberal world” sits about sucking its thumbs. If we lower tax rates, do we get higher revenues? Voters have even been heard that groaner for decades—and many have come to believe it!

Final question: What do all those voters think when we make indiscriminate use of our R-bombs? The key word there is “indiscriminate,” so let’s ask that question again:

What do all those voters think when we make indiscriminate use of our R-bombs? To all appearances, we fiery liberals rarely wonder or ask. Often, it seems like these bombs are our toys, designed for a key demographic, the demographic known simply as “us.”

Special report: Bombs away!

PART 4—SUMMER ESCAPE TO THE PLANET OF FEAR (permalink): We liberals love to drop our R-bombs—and our X- and N-bombs too. Trembling in the face of a “summer of fear,” Matthew Yglesias played the former card in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.

Yglesias dropped his X-bombs early and often. As he starts, we’ll include the headline that appeared in the hard-copy Post:

YGLESIAS (8/8/10): Welcome to the summer of fear

Politics always seems to get a bit off-kilter when the temperature goes up. But instead of the familiar silly-season stuff of years past—made-up scandals and who-cares gossip—the past two summers have been filled with vitriol. Last year we had town halls gone wild, fueled by the threat of death panels pulling the plug on Grandma. This year, us-vs.-them controversies are proliferating, linked by a surge in xenophobia. This is our summer of fear.

So far, the summer of fear has featured a charge, led by Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and former New York congressman Rick Lazio, to block the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic cultural center (which is to include a mosque) a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, with frightening speed, we've gone from discussing the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to watching congressional Republicans call for hearings to reconsider the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

First, a word of explanation. Yglesias, age 29, is still a young man, with everything to live for. And yet, instead of the usual “silly season,” he finds himself confronted this summer with a “summer of fear.” And the whole scary thing has just happened so fast! Throughout his piece, he stresses the fact that the “surge in xenophobia” of which he writes has come upon us “with frightening speed.” One thinks of the way Camus described the awareness of plague descending upon Oran.

Perhaps we can forgive the frightened young lad for throwing his X-bombs all around, sometime forgetting to “use his words” to describe the actual problem. He complains about the “xenophobia” in paragraphs 1, 3 and 8—and then again as he ends his piece. For the record, this is one of Digby’s favorite bombs. She sees the problem everywhere—except in herself—and isn’t reluctant to toss such bombs, ignoring collateral damage.

We can perhaps forgive this young writer for one other fault. We can perhaps forgive him for the clownish, persistent way he embellishes the facts of his frightening tale, creating a sad, inane “silly season” of his own.

Does Yglesias embellish his tale about this summer of fear? Only when he types! First example:

Have we really moved “with frightening speed” from “discussing the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform” to our current state of affairs? Only if you’re in love with the thrills provided by good horror movies! Readers, when’s the last time any serious person thought we were “discussing the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform?” Sadly, it has been years. Presumably, the trembling writer refers to President Obama’s speech about immigration reform on July 1 of this year—the speech which was correctly described in the next day’s New York Times:

BAKER (7/2/10): In his first speech devoted entirely to immigration policy since taking office, Mr. Obama tried to navigate between what he called the two extremes of the debate, defending his efforts to strengthen border security while promoting a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people in the United States illegally.

The president's decision to elevate the issue reflected more of a political strategy than a legislative one since the White House has no plan to actually push a bill this year through a Congress already consumed by other issues. Instead, Mr. Obama's focus appeared intended to frame the debate for the approaching election to appeal to Hispanic voters who could be critical in several states as well as other middle-class voters turned off by anti-immigrant discourse while blaming Republicans for opposing a comprehensive overhaul.

Duh. This was Obama’s first speech on the issue—and the White House had no plan “to actually push a bill.” As Yglesias surely knows, it has been years since anyone had a real “discussion” about the prospects of such reform. But when we stage our annual “silly season,” we tend to forget such details.

Please note: We’re not suggesting that we should change the 14th amendment. We’re not expressing a view about the Cordoba House; we’re not attempting to defend its more clownish opponents, like the patently ludicrous Pamela Geller, whose bad faith deserves to be profiled in the Washington Post. (We strongly recommend this sympathetic report about Imam Rauf and his associates in yesterday’s New York Times.) We’re challenging the brains and good faith of children like Yglesias, who excitedly throws his X-bombs around even as he clownishly embellishes the torments of our “summer of fear.”

Are we trapped in a “summer of fear?” As he continues, Yglesias keeps throwing his X-bomb around, describing “a groundswell of public hostility toward outsiders.” And he sketches a larger theory—this wave of xenophobia has been caused by our economic collapse:

YGLESIAS (continuing directly): Many liberals think they spy simple election-year opportunism. And of course, where there's an election, there's opportunism. But these prominent Republicans wouldn't be doing any of this if xenophobia weren't playing well politically.

Politicians are making hay out of the mosque only because public opinion seems to oppose it. They are reflecting, as well as stoking, a groundswell of public hostility toward outsiders. This hostility is not about the midterms; it is a consequence of the economic downturn, every bit as much as foreclosures and layoffs. When personal incomes stop growing, people become less broad-minded, and suspicion of foreigners and other ethnic groups grows. We have seen this time and again, in this country and in others.

Fear, in essence, begets fear. The loss of a job, or the worry that one might be lost, raises anxiety. This often plays out as increased suspicion of people who look different or come from different places. While times of robust growth and shared prosperity inspire feelings of interconnectedness and mutual gain, in times of worry, the picture quickly reverses. Views of the world turn zero-sum: If he wins, what do I lose? Any kind of change looks like decline—the end of a "way of life."

Fear, in essence, begets fear, Matthews says, as he free-form fear himself. And while it’s certainly true that economic downturns can produce unfortunate social movements, it’s also true that Yglesias embellishes every step of the way, stoking our fear about fear itself. As he continues, he lists his third and fourth manifestations of the alleged summer of fear. His embellishment leaps off the page:

YGLESIAS (continuing directly): One of the striking things about this particular shift is how quickly it has come about. Many expected racial tension during the 2008 presidential campaign, but it barely materialized. However, as unemployment and foreclosures have increased in the years since, so have trivial, race-based controversies, such as those surrounding the New Black Panther Party and Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod.

It has all come about so quickly, the frightened writer exclaims. And then, he cites two “race-based controversies”—one of which was barely a controversy at all, one of which has been pimped all through the past decade.

Where does the Washington Post find these kids? As evidence that the nation is gripped by “a groundswell of public hostility toward outsiders,” bysuspicion of foreigners and other ethnic groups,” Yglesias cites the “race-based controversy surrounding Shirley Sherrod,” a controversy which lasted roughly one day, until the facts became known. (At that point, the controversy was redirected at its perpetrators, including Fox News and Andrew Breitbart.) Is the nation in the grip of suspicion of foreigners and other ethnic groups,” presumably meaning blacks? If so, why did everyone except a few minor nutcases instantly accept the obvious fact that Shirley Sherrod had been mistreated? This controversy did come on quickly—but it departed the very same way! And by the way: If the “race-based controversy surrounding Sherrod” reflects a surge in xenophobia, let’s not forget to name the names of the two of the leading X-men:

Key xenophobes in the summer of fear:
Tom Vilsack, head of the Department of Agriculture
Benjamin Jealous, head of the NAACP

Vilsack fired Sherrod at the start of the one-day affair, issuing a statement which plainly implied that she had engaged in “discrimination.” Jealous jumped in a few hours later, issuing a thundering statement which said the NAACP was “appalled by her actions.” Are Vilsack and Jealous big xenophobes too? No wonder Matt feels so much fear!

The “race-based controversy” about Sherrod lasted maybe one day. But then, the “raced-based controversy” about the New Black Panthers was also amazingly slight, unless you were watching Fox News, a channel which has pimped fear about this group all through the past decade. Only one thing changed this summer—the New Black Panthers were involved in a minor, but actual, news event. Fox News tried hard to pimp the affair, without vast success on the larger stage. But that’s what it always has done with this group, in good times as well as bad.

Are we trapped in a summer of fear? If this is the best our frightened young lad can do, we’ll have to say no, we’re just not. But when a young person is gripped with fear, everything around him seems frightening. After describing the “sharp reversal” on display in the Cordoba House matter, Yglesias continued faking his facts, in a way which deserves condemnation:

YGLESIAS: The same abrupt slide toward xenophobia can be seen on immigration. As recently as 2004 and 2008, both parties nominated candidates who promised a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Today, President Obama is overseeing a skyrocketing rate of deportations, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)—formerly the leading pro-immigration Republican—are among those who want to hold hearings reconsidering the 14th Amendment. The shift has come so suddenly that the Republican Party hasn't even had time to amend its Web site, which as of this writing still touts "Republicans Passed the 14th Amendment" as one of the GOP's signature accomplishments.

At the same time, the number of Americans with doubts about the location of the president's birth appears to be on the rise. An Aug. 4 CNN poll found that only 42 percent of Americans are now sure he was born in the United States, way down from July 2009 polling that showed 77 percent of adults expressing certainty on this score. Despite clear evidence that he was born in Hawaii, Obama too is cast as an outsider.

What a consummate hack! One statement about immigration is technically accurate; technically, both candidates did “promise a path to citizenship” in Campaign 2008. But Candidate McCain only did so when forced; he had abandoned his support for comprehensive reform after the Bush plan failed in the spring of 2007, long before the “summer of fear” brought on by our economic collapse. In a famous statement Yglesias agrees to forget, McCain even stated, in a January 2008 debate, that he would vote against his own former bill if it ever came to another vote. It is absurd to suggest that the current state of play about immigration has come on “suddenly” or “abruptly”—and this is even true about the 14th amendment matter. “Bills related to birthright citizenship have been introduced in Congress every year since the 1990s,” the Post reported in the same Sunday paper where Yglesias marveled at all the abruptness. Two days earlier, in a typically silly editorial, the New York Times even noted this:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (8/6/10): Usually alarms about scary foreign infants are made by one-note zealots like Tom Tancredo of Colorado. But it's a bipartisan temptation. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who berated Republicans this week about abandoning their principles over birthright citizenship, did so himself in a 1993 bill for which he later apologized.

The Times was in such high dudgeon this day that its claim about Reid was a bit unclear. But yes, Reid’s bill, offered seventeen years ago, “clarifies that a person born in the United States to an alien mother who is not a lawful resident is not a U.S. citizen.” (Reid press release, August 1993, in an earlier summer of fear.)

For the past several decades, there has always some damn-fool provision floating around concerning immigration; for what it’s worth, the “birthright citizenship” matter is less patently absurd on the merits than most. But there has been no abrupt slide toward xenophobia, except in the tortured minds of our fear-boys. And good God! The way this pitiful child dissembles about that new “birther” poll! In the recent CNN poll, 71 percent of respondents said that Obama was “definitely born in the United States” or was “probably born in the United States.” This is very close to the earlier 77 percent figure, which came from a poll which only let respondents say yes he was, or no he wasn’t. By the way, that earlier poll was a Daily Kos poll, and all such results should now be suspect. In another sign of our liberal brilliance, Markos got himself conned by a fraudulent pollster for years, he has now sadly said.

It’s sad, and truly remarkable, that the “birther” foolishness exists at all. But it’s equally sad when one of our “brightest” young “liberal” writers fakes his data in such stupid ways, struggling to create his own silly season, a frightening “summer of fear.”

One last point: Can you see the name of one other xenophobe lurking in that last passage by Matthew? “Today, President Obama is overseeing a skyrocketing rate of deportations,” he writes, adding Obama’s name to those of Jealous and Vilsack in the long list of current xenophobes. No wonder Matthew is so afraid! The xenophobia has spread all around!

The nonsense of this piece is vast, though it does teach us several key lessons:

First, it helps us see how much we liberals like to play with our toys. Just as we love throwing R-bombs around, Yglesias tosses his X-bombs all about, inventing a silly, sweeping tale about some abrupt rise in xenophobia. In these ways, pseudo-liberals deride the American public—and they practice to lose.

Second, we learn an important fact about a large change in the press corps. For most of the past several decades, silly-season nonsense like this only came from the right—after which, the mainstream press corps would fall in line with the tale. In 2001, the silly season revolved around the claim that Gary Condit had killed Chandra Levy. In a truly evil act, pundits invented at least two bits of fake “evidence.” Right up through September 11, the whole gang had good solid fun with their evil tale.

This reflected the culture of the Clinton-Gore years, in which ludicrous invented tales were, by law, aimed at Big Democrats. We read ludicrous tales about Big Dem Liars, back in the day when the “liberal world” had run off and hid in the woods. In those days, careerists of Matthew’s stripe had two choices in the press corps. They could repeat the claims against Big Dems, or they could just keep their traps shut.

Frank Rich chose the first pathway to citizenship; E. J. Dionne chose the second. Today, silly children get to invent liberal tales. This is a truly major change, a reaction to the disasters of Bush. Pseudo-liberals now get to play, though the game itself stays idiotic.

How idiotic? Eventually, Matt is so scared that he turns to an expert. Presumably, it isn’t Professor Friedman’s fault that his comments get used in this fashion:

YGLESIAS: Benjamin Friedman, an economist at Harvard whose 2005 book "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" argued that growth tends to foster liberal sentiments and open societies, whereas slowdowns undermine them, says this summer's events "are predictable consequences of this kind of sustained economic downturn."

"Manifestations like these have appeared in the U.S. at such times before," he told me, "most obviously in the 1880s and early 1890s," when a sustained period of economic stagnation coincided with the abandonment of the Reconstruction-era commitment to civil rights, the widespread adoption of anti-Chinese legislation and a nationwide wave of lynchings directed not only at blacks, but also Catholics and immigrants.

These summers of fear are always with us! Sometimes, they involve “a nationwide wave of lynchings directed not only at blacks, but also Catholics and immigrants.” Sometimes, they involve one-day stories in which a very good person gets misrepresented, before every sane person in the country agrees she was badly mistreated.

In each case, we liberals get to denounce the wave of xenophobia spilling up from the vile underclass!

We liberals love to play with our toys—to throw our various bombs all around! Tomorrow, a look at our gruesome bad faith concerning race and gender. Have you heard that we liberals aren’t always “all that?” Trust us—voters have noticed.