The Strategic Rationale Behind The Left’s Criticism Of President Obama: FEAR
There are essentially two major camps left-of-center in American politics, and the divisions between the two are often as deep and wide as the rifts between the two major parties.
One camp is composed of Democratic partisans — a group that goes to great ends to stifle any and all criticism of President Obama and other Democratic politicians.
Commonly referred to as ‘Democratic loyalists’, ‘Obamabots’, ‘Obama Loyalists’ ‘Obama apologists’, ‘sheeple’ … they are fueled by a deep conviction that the Democratic Party — no matter what they do and how far to the right they swing — must have our full unflinching support to ensure their eventual reelection.
Anytime the Left criticizes Obama’s initiatives or policies, or calls for primaries or third party options, Partisans immediately condemn them as “helping to elect Republicans”.
Partisans have succumbed, fully and completely, to the ‘lesser of two evils’ rationale.
To fully appreciate how insignificant policies are to the partisan mind, consider that most of them absolutely loathed Ronald Reagan in the 80s, yet now ironically adore President Obama. Never mind that his actual policy record sits to the right of Reagan’s along the left-right political spectrum.
The second camp is composed of progressives — a group whose loyalties lie ONLY with progressive policies. These individuals relentlessly pursue the truth irregardless of which party suffers from their findings. Unlike partisans, they refuse to cherry-pick, or engage in historic revisionism, or even to pull punches as a way of sparing Democratic politicians embarrassment.
Commonly referred to as ‘the Left’, ‘the populist Left’, ‘truth-tellers’, ‘the professional Left’, ‘non-partisan Left’, ‘ideological purists’, … they tend to vote Democratic, but will at times — depending on the options available to them — consider voting for Greens and independents.
The Left has been especially critical of President Obama over the last three years. He won a decisive victory in 2008 having campaigned on the following progressive platform: a public option as the vital component to any health care reform legislation; allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs; ending Bush tax cuts; scrapping the Patriot Act, which he deemed ‘shoddy and dangerous’; ending the warring policies of the neocons; closing GITMO; ending ‘Too Big to Fail’ on Wall Street (so as to avoid future TARPS); rewriting job-killing NAFTA-like trade policies, etc. etc. Once elected, he instantly turned his back on all these campaign promises, instead cutting back-room deals with the wealthy entrenched interest groups who profit from the very deep structural problems he vowed to reform.
All this begs the following question: Whose Strategy (Partisan or Progressive) Is Most Likely To Yield Meaningful Progressive Change?
Again, Partisans preach that within the confines of a two-party system, you MUST ALWAYS support and defend the ‘lesser of two evil’ parties. And so as an extension of this belief, they view the Left — always shining a light on Obama’s betrayals and pro-corporate, non-progressive policies — as merely sabotaging his 2012 reelection prospects, thereby ensuring we get stuck with a Tea Partier President.
But this partisan assessment is both simplistic and naive.
To fully appreciate the strategy of Progressives, one must focus entirely on what motivates politicians to legislate the policies they do: FEAR. If politicians don’t fear you, they are free to ignore you.
Like all Americans, politicians fear losing their jobs. The two major competing groups that directly impact their reelection prospects are the powerful entrenched entities who fill either their or their opponents’ political coffers with millions of dollars, and the constituents who will actually cast the votes.
Why Politicians Fear Entrenched Corporate Entities Far More Than Voters
Deep pocketed special interest groups have only one objective: to ensure that all legislation passed and signed into law continues to enrich them and advance their own narrow self-interests (often to the detriment of the American public).
Of great significance, is their mercenary approach to influencing the legislative process. Their loyalty lies with whatever party legislates their agenda. One wrong vote and they will reroute tens of thousands of dollars slotted for one politician directly into his opponent’s war chest. Similar to Progressives, their loyalties lie with the policies being legislated.
Voting constituents, conversely, are largely too timid to provoke this same level of fear in their politicians, and this is a direct result of our deeply-flawed two-party political system. By punishing or even criticizing Democrats, partisans fear they risk empowering Republicans.
So naturally Democratic politicians factor their supporters’ reluctance to punish them into their decision-making process anytime their campaign promises meet resistance from the powerful entrenched-interest groups. It is precisely this ‘lesser of two-evils’ mindset that all but ensures Democratic politicians put entrenched corporate interests above their own supporters’ interests.
The Media’s Role in Ensuring America Remains Partisan
The main-stream-media (owned by these same entrenched corporate interests) helps to do its part to solidify a public partisan mindset by largely replacing serious news coverage and thoughtful policy discussions with a focus on partisan gamesmanship and the most extreme elements of the ‘other’ party. This blatant distraction — a refocusing of the public attention away from the issues that matter — lulls each side’s voters into complacency. It grants a non-principled President even more leeway to betray the interests of his own supporters. He can quietly serve the entrenched interests, in exchange for millions in campaign contributions, and yet still remain confident his constituents — shocked by the nightly broadcasting of extreme Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh rhetoric — will continue to support him.
Is it a mere coincidence that Fox News Chairman Roger Aisles — who serves as the Republican Party’s propagandist-in-chief — decided to cancel Glenn Beck just before the 2012 Election cycle? Aisles understood better than anyone that Beck provokes fear and disgust in Centrists and Leftists alike. And that fear has a way of overshadowing the deep-seated feelings of betrayal shared by MANY who campaigned for Obama in 2008. Aisles knew that MSNBC and CNN would continue to devote an exorbitant amount of time each night focused on Beck’s crazy conspiratorial rants, and that this could only frighten and energize a largely disenchanted electorate to vote Democratic.
Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al actually steal the spotlight away from Obama’s right-of-center policies. Obama’s Milton Friedmanesque initiatives have failed to spark outrage amongst many Democrats, because they are completely captivated by the circus clowns on the far-Right. When liberal pundits roll clip after clip after clip of antics from the fringe-right, they divert their viewers’ attention from things such as the NAFTA-like ‘free trade’ deals Obama is quietly pushing through — gifts to multi-national corporations which will result in the exportation of hundreds of thousands more American jobs, and during one of the biggest unemployment crises since the Great Depression. They neglect to remind their viewer that Obama routinely slammed these very NAFTA-like trade deals during his campaign, promising his supporters he’d rewrite NAFTA if they elected him.
Why The Progressive Strategy Is Our Only Hope For Change
Progressives are of the mindset that the only way to transform this country into a more progressive one, is to heighten politicians’ FEAR of their own constituents in a way that rivals the fear instilled by deep-pocketed interest groups. Progressives know that politicians strategically move towards their ideological base, whenever confronted with political insecurity.
When the Left calls Obama out in a way that penetrates the inner-beltway bubble — and becomes quantifiable by corresponding poll numbers — the President’s political advisers interpret this as voter repudiation. They realize his policy pendulum has swung too far Right in favor of entrenched interests and to the detriment of his own political stability. And it’s at this moment he begins to fear his supporters — the ones who elected him, and who will actually cast the votes in 2012. This leaves him with little choice, but to pivot towards his base and attempt to diffuse rising populist dissent.
Therein lies the key crucial difference between the two camps:
Progressives understand that when a President’s poll numbers drop he is more likely to push progressive priorities to appease his supporters. As such, the Left doesn’t believe its criticism of Obama in any way threatens the ends it hopes to achieve: progressive policies. If Obama stubbornly refuses to pivot to the Left then he has only himself to blame for a disenchanted, unenergized base come election time.
Partisans are always in campaign mode — viewing actual governing as little more than the muddy tracks of a perpetual horse race — and thus equate lowering poll numbers as a precursor to defeat. Therefore, as a group, they are incapable of ever pressuring their politicians to champion progressive causes or to promote meaningful change.
The message partisans continue to send to their Democratic representatives is this: “Just ignore me and everything I want, because I intend to campaign for you and vote for you regardless of what you do. I’ll even lie for you and cover up how you’ve screwed me every which way til Sunday — anything to ensure those scary Republicans don’t win.”
The Left hopes to send them the exact opposite message.
The US founding fathers, like today’s Progressives, understood that the one vital ingredient for maintaining a robust democracy is nothing less than FEAR itself:
“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Well, today, we find ourselves living in a state of corporate tyranny, where change has become nothing more than a campaign slogan. Partisans have no one but themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs.
When Lies And Conspiracies Are All You Have To Energize Your Base, Be Prepared For Violence
If a person falsely shouts ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, thereby creating a stampede in which innocent bystanders get trampled, then that person can be held liable, as was decided in the 1919 Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States.
This verdict distinguished between untruthful statements used to incite violence (i.e. falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater) and truthful statements which may also happen to incite violence (i.e. shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater that is actually burning). The former is illegal; the latter is not.
Most of the criticism leveled at the Tea Party over the last two years has been due to the fact their supporters’ threatening and hateful outbursts are largely based on unfounded beliefs fed to them by their leaders, right-wing radio, and the Fox News channel.
After Republican policies failed so miserably under eight tumultuous years of George W. Bush, they have been forced to manufacture lies and conspiracies to outrage, and in turn energize, their base.
When Barack Obama beat John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election, the right-wing immediately began pushing forward the lie that he was going to outlaw gun purchases. The result was astounding:
According to FBI figures for the week of November 3 to 9 [the week after Obama won], the bureau received more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers — a nearly 49 percent increase over the same period in 2007. Conatser said his store, Virginia Arms Company, has run out of some models — such as the AR-15 rifle, the civilian version of the military’s M-16 — and is running low on others.
Such assault weapons are among the firearms that gun dealers and customers say they fear Obama will hit with new restrictions, or even take off the market.
This fear mongering campaign continued unabated into the next year. MediaMatters, at the time, compiled a sample of these lies on “outlawing guns” dating from Obama’s victory through April 2009. Here’s a clip of a Glenn Beck episode embodying this fear mongering.
And sure enough, their falsely “screaming fire” incited its first act of violence when an angry, young, paranoid, conspiracy theorist, Richard Andrew Poplawski, gunned down three police officers and wounded a fourth in Pittsburgh, PA. Here’s how he was described by friends and family leading up to the murders:
He slept with a gun under his pillow in a basement room filled with firearms and ammunition, convinced that Jews controlled the media and President Obama was scheming to take away his arsenal, friends and relatives said Saturday. […]
[Poplawski’s lifelong friend Edward] Perkovic said Poplawski usually was affable and kind, but grew angry recently over fears Obama would outlaw guns. He said Poplawski owned a bullet-proof vest, an AK-47 assault rifle and at least seven other weapons, but obtained the firearms legally.
Tea Party favorite, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) is a notable for spreading outlandish conspiracy theories. She claimed in the Summer of 2009 that the Obama Administration would use the 2010 Census information for nefarious purposes. She insisted ACORN — a group demonized by the far-right — would be the ones collecting and disseminating the information.
In this footage, Glenn Beck reveals that he fears the Census information will be used to deny gun permits to American citizens, and then Bachmann (his guest) one-ups his allegation, by stating “Here’s the other thing that will happen”, and then explains that the United States government will use the information to put Americans into internment camps, much like they did to Japanese Americans during the second world war.
Bachmann had earlier told Chris Matthews that there was a serious problem with anti-American members of Congress (referring to Democrats), which she said necessitated an investigation by the US media.
Not to be outdone by her fellow Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin — when health care reform was being debated in August of 2009 — spread the fear of death panels amongst her low-information supporters:
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”
There was no such provision in the bill, as was quickly pointed out by FactCheck.org. Palin made it up. But other ‘conservatives’ (including GOP leaders and politicians), Fox News, and right-wing radio would not let facts deter them from energizing their base. They began repeating Palin’s lie as a proven fact, over and over again.
These same voices on the Right also began to call the proposed health care reform bill “Socialized Medicine” and a “Government Takeover”. This was despite the fact that a single payer system was NEVER ever on the table, and neither Obama, nor any leader in Congress, had ever proposed government employed health care providers (the end result of a ‘government takeover’). Private ‘For profit’ health care was always, unfortunately, to be the end game in all the health care reform proposals.
However, the ‘death panels’ and ‘government takeover’ lies incited a huge violent frenzy amongst Tea Party thugs, who stormed Town Hall Meetings shouting over all discussions, and intimidating Representatives and their supporters.
All this fanatical behavior (based entirely on lies) lead fact checker Politifact.org to award Sarah Palin’s ‘death panel’ statement as “Lie of the Year”:
“Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest,” writes Politifact.com, the non-partisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning site run by the St. Petersburg Times. Palin’s “assertion — that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care — spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings.”
For those who might have been wondering, the runner-up for “Lie of the Year” went to Glenn Beck — also instrumental in spreading Palin’s ‘death panel’ lie — for claiming “that John Holdren, a science adviser to President Barack Obama, proposed forcing abortions and sterilants on the U.S. population”.
Third place for Politifact.org’s “Lie of the Year” was “a claim [made] by conspiracy theorist Orly Taitz that Obama was born in Kenya” and therefore ineligible to be President of the United States. Her lie launched an entire “Birther” movement which is hugely popular within the Tea Party set. Here’s a clip of an audience of wing-nut Birthers literally domineering a Democratic representative’s Town Hall meeting.
One common element amongst all these egregious lies by the far right — used to drum up support for what would otherwise be unpopular positions — is that they are conspiratorial in nature. They are based on an underlying fear that those in government — namely, anyone left of center, who disagrees with their inflexible ideology — are illegitimate, have stolen ‘their’ government, and are out to take away rights that they believe are accorded to them by the Constitution.
These conspiracies provoke fear, anxiety and fury, which ultimately creates an extremely toxic political environment. Though it may be the perfect recipe for energizing the right-wing base, it also unfortunately can unleash violence from mentally unstable, hyper-paranoid, gun-owning individuals — ironically, those most likely to buy into fantastical Tea Party conspiracy theories.
And at the same time these propagandists stoke their supporters’ fury with blatant lies, they simultaneously use gun-rhetoric, gun-imagery, and make veiled threats towards their perceived ‘enemies’ at every possible opportunity.
TeaParty.org founder, Dale Robertson, who helped start the Tea Party movement nearly two years ago in Houston had this warning for Republican leaders in January 2010:
“We are turning our guns on anyone who doesn’t support constitutional conservative candidates”
Sarah Palin’s local newspaper, The Anchorage Daily, along with many prominent voices in the media have been voicing concerns about Sarah Palin’s gun-rhetoric for as long as she’s been on the national stage:
“RELOAD!” Sarah Palin shouted at right-wing supporters via Twitter on Tuesday after President Obama signed the House health care bill. On her Facebook page, she posted a U.S. map with crosshair targets in states where she’s planning to campaign against moderate Democrats who voted in favor of the health insurance overhaul. “We’ll aim for these races,” she wrote, in the “first salvo” leading up to the midterm elections. […]
Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle also leaned heavily on gun-rhetoric when running against Harry Reid. She hinted at the possibility for gun violence in the event she didn’t win the election:
In an interview she gave with conservative talk show host Bill Manders earlier in the campaign, Angle conspicuously floated, once again, “Second Amendment remedies” to deal not just with the supposedly ever-growing “tyrannical” U.S. government, but to replace her now general election opponent: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Huffington Post is now reporting that firearms manufacturer, Palmetto State Armory, has commemorated “Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) health care reform-era “you lie” interruption of President Obama by engraving “You Lie” on a new, limited edition line of assault rifle components. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
Essentially, these right-wing voices provide a litany of lies which prey upon their followers’ deepest fears, and then they use gun-rhetoric and gun-imagery as if to suggest a violent course of action might be required in ‘getting their country back’.
After falsely screaming ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater for two years now, is it any wonder that when a Democratic Congressperson gets shot in the head by someone who comes across as delusional, as fixated on the written word of the constitution, and as emotionally invested in conspiracies, that the entire country would naturally assume he’s just another wing-nut Tea Bagger, and blame those same right-wing personalities — the ones who push the lies and conspiracies and use gun-rhetoric — for having likely incited his shooting rampage?
Fox News President Roger Ailes, more or less, conceded this point when he admitted to asking those at the Fox News network to “tone it down” in the wake of the Arizona shootings:
“I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually,” the Fox News president said. “You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.”
Paul Krugman Warns About The Right-Wing’s Hold On GOP
Krugman makes some interesting points in his NY Times column about the Right-Wing’s new hold over the GOP.
First, he addresses the anti-health care reform rally last week in front of our nation’s capitol, and some of the now-all-too-common ‘grotesque’ visuals and rhetoric (i.e. “large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption ‘National Socialist Healthcare.'”):
The key thing to understand about that rally is that it wasn’t a fringe event. It was sponsored by the House Republican leadership — in fact, it was officially billed as a G.O.P. press conference. Senior lawmakers were in attendance, and apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings. […]
What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.
He gives some historic background on the GOP’s courtship of the far-right:
With the rise of Ronald Reagan: Republican politicians began to win elections in part by catering to the passions of the angry right.
Until recently, however, that catering mostly took the form of empty symbolism. Once elections were won, the issues that fired up the base almost always took a back seat to the economic concerns of the elite.
But something snapped last year. Conservatives had long believed that history was on their side, so the G.O.P. establishment could, in effect, urge hard-right activists to wait just a little longer: once the party consolidated its hold on power, they’d get what they wanted. After the Democratic sweep, however, extremists could no longer be fobbed off with promises of future glory.
Furthermore, the loss of both Congress and the White House left a power vacuum in a party accustomed to top-down management. At this point Newt Gingrich is what passes for a sober, reasonable elder statesman of the G.O.P. And he has no authority: Republican voters ignored his call to support a relatively moderate, electable candidate in New York’s special Congressional election.
Real power in the party rests, instead, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who at this point is more a media figure than a conventional politician). Because these people aren’t interested in actually governing, they feed the base’s frenzy instead of trying to curb or channel it. So all the old restraints are gone.
Krugman warns that the party of Beck and Limbaugh could make some serious gains in the midterm election, if only because Obama has been unable to stop the country’s economic bleeding (unemployment has now reached a 26-year high of 10.2%). He cautions what this could mean:
if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
It sort of goes without saying, that if an ideological group as evil as the Nazis could come into power during extremely adverse economic times, who’s to say we won’t end up with an ever-increasing number of scary, fear mongering, destructive politicians of our own during this economic slide? Probably a good rule-of-thumb is to never take the far-right lightly …