Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seriously–Part II

This is the second part of an investigation The first part of Seriously can be found HERE.

The question I asked is: Why is it important to stop laughing and to start taking people like Palin, Beck and Bachmann seriously?

Wonderland

Amid the traumatic national shock that followed the Tucson shooting, many people from both sides of the political spectrum, attempted to learn if the suspected shooter 22-year-old Jared Loughner was politically motivated or whether this was bildethe act of an attention-seeking mentally-disturbed individual.

There was enough evidence on both sides of the argument.

The congressional elections between Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Tea Party Republican candidate, Jesse Kelly had been hotly contested. Many thought the tone, the level of rhetoric around the nation had become excessive. Some questioned whether the fact that Giffords is Arizona's first Jewish Congresswoman might have been a motive.

Others saw a conspiracy elsewhere, citing the campaigning style of Giffords' opponent, Kelly, as less than commendable. For example, Kelly ran an ad urging his supporters to "get on target for victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."

Note it doesn't say, help vote Giffords out of office.

More suspiciously, according to Arizona Capitol Reports (subscription-only newsletter), Jesse Kelly was apparently so eager to challenge her again, that he requested a legal inquiry as to whether he could run again if Giffords lost her seat:

Attorney Lee Miller, who serves as legal counsel for the Arizona Republican Party, told our reporter Kelly’s campaign contacted him earlier this week to find out how the seat would be filled if Giffords couldn’t serve.

On the other hand, Most people who knew Jared Loughner confirmed that he was troubled. Almost immediately, stories began to emerge from classmates and friends of obvious mental instability.

Videos of text posted on a YouTube channel set up in the name of Jared Lee Loughner show a deep distrust of the government and religion, describing US laws as "treasonous" and speaking repeatedly of his wish to create a new currency. "The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," he wrote. "No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!" His Internet postings also indicated an interest in hardline ideology, listing Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's The Communist Manifesto and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf among his favourite books. http://goo.gl/6uJ4M

There's something for every finger-pointer there, it seems. Based on this reading list, the Conservatives and Liberals could both happily make claims about the shooter's political ideology. Because everybody knows that whoever reads Mein Kampf must be a Nazi and whoever reads The Communist Manifesto has to a card-carrying commie. That's taken for granted, isn't it?

Other books, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Brave New World,” “Animal Farm” and “Fahrenheit 451,” suggest an interest in or antagonism against oppressive regimes committed to stifling all individual initiative and thought. Still, where does "The Wizard of Oz," “Peter Pan" or "Alice in Wonderland" fit in? http://goo.gl/WT3mv

Mea Culpa?

Regarding criticism about the use of cross-hairs to "target" Democratic candidates running against Tea Party candidates, (as well as some of her remarks), former vice-presidential candidate and ex-governor of Alaska Sarah Palin - excuse the expression- came under fire. Her video-taped response turned out to be a public relations disaster. sarahpalin01

In it, Palin dramatized her outrage at the very idea that she could be responsible. It was a smear by the liberal media, she told us, this, on the very day of mourning for victims of the attack. How, she asked, could she be blamed for the criminal actions of a lunatic. (This was in no way a mea culpa thingy.) This claim that people cannot be held responsible for actions done in their name smacked of a shrugging off of responsibility and to the more legally-minded, seemed demonstrably untrue. There is a well-established legal definition of incitement to violence, and it involves three parts:

(1) that the person is directly being encouraged (or “incited”) to commit some act of violence, and

(2) there is a clear and present danger that the person will commit the act, and

(3) that the person does, in fact, commit the act.

Whether Palin was actually guilty of this is another question.

I, like a lot of Americans, found the whole video presentation by Palin disturbing and a little perplexing. Side-step the bizarre application of the phrase "blood libel," a term once used by militant bigoted Christians to slander Jews. And forget the poor timing. Ignore, if you, can, the narcissism of her victim-hood. Excusing all those other errors in judgment and lapses in taste and sensitivity, one is still left with an ambitious person with a clear inability to accept even the possibility either her words or deeds were ill-advised. (I am not speaking of an apology of some kind of admission of guilt.) That lack of self-reflection alone should disqualify any candidate for high office.

This was not the only time her careless manner of speaking has landed her in hot water. When Palin talked about "hunting down" Julian Assange like a terrorist- (despite the fact he still hasn't be charged, tried or convicted) it could be easy to say, she is merely ignorant of due process. Still, she wasn't hunting the co-founder of Wikileaks to give him a gift, she was really talking about hunting, as she does in Alaska.. to caribou. In other words, she was referring to the assassination of an innocent man.

But then Beck is hardly any better. In the past, Beck has "joked" about putting poison in Nancy Pelosi's wine. Taking on an Oscar-winning film maker, he once said: "Hang on, let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael alg_resize_mouth_glenn-beckMoore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it."

It is easy enough to write this off as irresponsible and rather childish behavior from an adult who presumably should know better. I have heard people tell me, "Oh, get over it. It's only a joke. He isn't serious." But, given the fact that Beck seems to take himself seriously and expects others to do the same, given the fact that Beck isn't speaking on some lonely AM radio station in the middle of nowhere but on an international cable network, it is a serious matter indeed. People watch and people believe.

Whether either of these two choose to admit it or not, if nothing else, this kind of talk sets a tone, a kind of tacit acceptance of violence, a climate in which people are permitted to make entirely specious claims, to resort to name-calling and to use thinly veiled threats and intimidation- whether actual or implied- to express themselves.

Following the shooting of Giffords in which six innocent bystanders were killed, there were calls for a lowering of the violent rhetoric. If there was a moment of self-reflection, a consideration that foolish words can lead to thoughtless actions, it certainly didn't last long. These calls were, for the most part, ignored. The best response the Far Right could give was to point fingers at the Left and shout, "You do it too!" and then, it was business as usual.

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of Beck's favorite themes is the liberal Nazi takeover that is secretly (well, nearly) plotting to take over the country. Any proposal or any piece of legislation, any line from a speech, with the magical use of Beck cross-eyed history lessons and pseudo-journalistic style, can be magically transformed into a Nazi bogyman.

A fair question: What could be the motive for people like Beck to paint the president as a Nazi? To harp day in and day out about a threat that a fascist state is about to emerge, that the progressives are about to round up all the conservatives and put them into labor camps. Any day, so he claims. Does he think this kind of talk enhances his credibility? Is credibility even an important issue for Beck?

In Defiance of Godwin's Law

If you've never heard of it before, Godwin's law is a tongue-in-cheek observation made by Mike Godwin in 1989 which has become an Internet adage. The law states: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.

The rule, please note, doesn't make any comment upon whether the statement is valid or not, merely that as the longer the argument continues, the greater the likelihood that the Nazi bogeyman will appear. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. Other corollaries to this rule state that the person who first uses this comparison usually loses the argument because it has a tendency to boomerang on the proponents.

This point may or may not have escaped the executives at Fox News.

As a matter of fact, Fox News is constantly using the Nazi analogies, especially Glenn Beck. In my previous blog post I quoted Dana Millibank of the Washington Post noted,

"In his first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year, [Beck] and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Untitled-1Joseph Goebbels got 24 mentions."

In November of 2010, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes defended a recently aired Fox expose on George Soros titled “The Puppet Master,” which accused the Jewish financier of funding a conspiratorial “shadow government” and manipulating regimes and currencies to his own benefit. (As another blogger noted, the very term "puppet-master" is highly charged racial term, dating back to Nazi claims that political leaders in Germany, and later America and Britain, were puppets of the Jews.) According to liberal pundits and some Jewish leaders who condemned the broadcast, the news story flirted with anti-Semitic stereotypes.

And this in turn led four hundred rabbis from almost all of the main branches of Judaism in the US to take out two full page ads, one in the Wall Street journal and another in Forward, calling upon Rupert Murdoch, owner of New Corp's Fox News to take action against what they see as excessive use of the Holocaust and Nazi analogies to disparage his mostly liberal political opponents.

The main problem with using this comparison, is, as Godwin's law states, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. It wasn't that everybody was forbidden to use these terms and those comparisons except for Jews, as Roger Ailes attempted to suggest. Rather, the problem is that every time you compare this event or that government proposal to a Nazi Holocaust, you disrespect, you desensitize, and you blur the meanings ever so slightly. When everything is a Nazi plot, an atrocity, then nothing is. When everybody you disagree with become Hitler's twin, then nobody is a Nazi.

Control of the Comparison

Strangely enough when these excesses by conservative media or politicians are brought to the publics attentions, it can easily be twisted. Especially with compliant media organizations. Case in point:

Say What? Democrat Compares Republicans to Nazis

The newfound civility didn’t last long. Political rhetoric in Congress doesn’t get much nastier than the words of one House Democrat during the debate on repealing the health care law.

In an extraordinary outburst on the House floor, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) invoked the Holocaust to attack Republicans on health care and compared rhetoric on the issue to the work of infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels," Cohen said. "You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing. And Congressman Cohen didn’t stop there. “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it--believed it and you have the Holocaust. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care. Politifact said the biggest lie of 2010 was a government takeover of health care because there is no government takeover," Cohen said. http://goo.gl/lqqEC

That serves a warning to any Progressive politician who dares to make the parallels that Beck and others make on a daily basis. Basically the message is: "We can talk about Nazis, the Holocaust, eugenic experiments, prison camps and death panels, we can make phony comparisons about Obama and Hitler, but anyone on the Left should refrain." In other words, the control over that imagery and those comparisons belong solely to the Right.

The argument from the Far Right is Cohen is an elected official and shouldn't be throwing around phrases carelessly. If, they say, Palin is to be held to a certain standard then why shouldn't politicians on the Left as well? It's a good point.

And besides, they say, who really takes THAT Beck character seriously? Seriously or not, some people seem to enjoy watching him, for whatever reason. Through late January and into early February 2010, Glenn Beck drew nearly three million viewers each night. That's quite an audience. What about Cohen? Congressman Cohen's speech was given to to a mostly empty House chamber where Republican efforts to repeal the health care law was taking place. Still there was widespread condemnation for Cohen's remarks. For Beck's remarks, a shrug.

But it's true: Beck isn't an elected official. It's the nice thing about being a "personality." You don't have the same kind of scrutiny and you don't have the restraints. That responsibility stuff can sure be a hindrance to free speech. Despite his non-elected status, Beck certainly enjoys campaigning although nobody is quite certain what he is running for. glenn-beck

In August of 2009, Beck told his audiences in town hall meetings on health care, that the Obama administration had plans that should that "should horrify America . . . particularly if you're elderly, handicapped or have a very, very young child." In his typical hackneyed version of history, both inaccurate and revisionist, Beck connected Woodrow Wilson, the progressive, with the Nazi eugenic experiments and German scientist's attempt at a master race. He went on: "The builder of the master race was only part of the problem in Germany, made possible after they began to devalue life. They tried to figure out how much is a life worth, and put a price on how much each individual was worth -- and some were worth more than others." http://goo.gl/Z5JE

Beck explained to his flock - without the slightest supporting facts- that Obama and his advisors favored health care rationing and then, bringing in allegations made by Sarah Palin about Obama and death panels, capping it with "so bureaucrats could decide who was worthy to live."

This isn't any thing new for Beck. Besides his tours, he delivers the same message (or something similarly outrageous) every day on his radio talk show or on his TV show.

When Beck equates the president's policies with Nazi eugenics, it's perfectly acceptable. And it's perfectly acceptable to pound that lie into the public's head day after day. But when a Democrat mentions this Big Lie approach, made famous by the Nazis, then suddenly it becomes a nasty attack on the Republicans.

A little research shows that Congressman Cohen had it slightly wrong however. It was not Joseph Goebbels who coined the phrase, "the big lie." It was Hitler himself in his book "Mein Kampf." Here is the relevant passage:

...in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes.

Congressman Cohen's words seem fairly appropriate, after all. "The Big Lie" is not merely an untruth that is repeated every day but it is some distortion so monumentally large that the idea that it could be false is beyond the capacity of simple minds to imagine. To take an example for Orwell, Peace is War. Freedom is slavery and Ignorance is Power .

Why, apart from fear-mongering and sensationalism, does Fox News constantly compare the left and progressives with the Nazis? Let me know what's your best theory.

Update

Monsanto confirmed they will not be advertising on Glenn Beck’s show in the future. In statements sent to the StopBeck effort, Monsanto advised:

“We purchased ad time via the local cable company – but not that specific program.”

Addressing our request that Monsanto refrain from advertising on Glenn Beck’s show going forward, Monsanto’s spokesperson added:

“We’ve verified that there are no additional ads scheduled for the Glenn Beck show. The show is not in our future media schedule.”

http://goo.gl/dF5hY

Good news happens every day.. but you sometimes have to search for it.

4 comments:

  1. crystalwolfakacaligrlFebruary 6, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    Your posts are always so right on! Thanks! Monsanto the most deadly company in the world is boycotting beck? Wow!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a spectacular post, Joe! I had been eagerly looking forward to Part II and it was well worth the wait!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you ! Con. Cohen is redeemed and understood. Now, if Monsanto would get involved in an honorable business...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I thought your references to narcissism nailed Sar... uh, the She Who Must Not Be Named For Her Name is Trademarked very well. One of the additional ironies was that as SWMNBN'ed complained of "blood libels" aimed at her personally, her supporters were bounding the blogosphere with tails about how the shooter was another deranged lefty-liberal.

    ReplyDelete

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