Monday, September 15, 2008

Can we really have a presidential election in which one side does nothing but lie? (Apparently so.)


[Click to enlarge, of course.]

"Everywhere it is power that is at stake, between states, between parties, within parties. Everyone constantly talks about morality, and everyone lies."
-- German literary historian Victor Klemperer (1881-1960),
in a diary entry of August 10, 1957

by Ken

Am I the only one in a state of stupefaction over the course the presidential election has taken? Oh, we saw it coming, but now that it's here, is it any less shocking?

We have a campaign in which essentially every word out of every mouth on one side is a lie.

Oh, we've seen the the extremified Right heading this way, rejecting all obligation to, even minimal respect for, the concept of truth, instead applying the word to what Stephen Colbert has conveniently dubbed "truthiness," which can be either (a) what one thinks ought to be true or (b) what one wishes were true. These are actually very different things, but functionally they have in common that they represent an abandonment of the basic standard of truth.

It's an astonishing thing to watch, and unlike so many progressive commentators, who can tell you exactly how a battle against it should be fought, I'm for the most part struck dumb. I don't see anything the least "postpartisan" about our time, but I see all too clearly that it's "posttrue." And once the public has lost all interest in actual truth, and yet in screeching, almost murderous, hysteria proclaims its lies to be truer than truth, what is there left to discuss?

The Sarah Palin phenomenon is part of the package. In saner times, she would be dismissed by all but the hard-core delusionals as an irrelevant ignoramus, and the McCranky campaign would get the old Gong Show hook and never be heard from again, having admitted that in terms of having anything to say of any relevance to the governance of the country it is 0 for the campaign. Instead, this person of absolutely no qualifications for any public office, let alone the vice presidency of the U.S., is breaking the rule that in presidential elections people don't vote for the VP candidate. It appears that large numbers of voters are prepared to vote for McCranky the empty suit because of the appallingly ignorant Palin and her random snatches of ultra-wacko extremist ideology.

Most appallingly, the emergence of the know-nothing candidate appears to have remoralized, not just the hard-core Republican base, which has long made clear its devotion to, even worship of, ignorance, but the Republican "middle" (meaning the "merely far right" as opposed to "far, far, far, and then some right") that has taken over the GOP. In the process this means that our actual sitting president, the Tiniest George Bush, has disappeared from their consciousness. People who finally came to understand at least some of how catastrophic Tiny George's regime has been no longer have to account for either the man, or his actions -- or their votes for him.

And so another segement of the commentariat bites the dust: the sages who told us so knowingly that the political alignment set in motion by Richard Nixon, which has effectively defined our politics for the last 40 years, has ended, to be replaced by . . . well, who knows what?

This was a tack taken by several reviewers of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein's monumental study of that political transformation, as reflected in the turnaround from Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory in the 1964 presidential election to Richard Nixon's landslide victory in 1972. Well enough in its way as far as it goes, those commentators sniffed, but that's so, so yesterday.

No, I think we're still living in Nixonland, only now it's Nixonland with fun-house mirrors. Thanks to the ideological warriors of the Far, Far Right, the country has been half-insanitized. Of course it's been done mostly by people who aren't at all nuts, people who expect to reap substantial profit in terms of either power or money. But once the insanity is unleashed, how do you fight it?

One of the things I've been reading while on temporary hiatus from Nixonland is the equally mammoth final volume, covering the postwar years, of the diaries of the remarkable German (and for the final decade-plus of his life specifically East German) literary historian Victor Klemperer* (1881-1960, seen here in 1945). Klemperer's story is much too complex to synopsize here, except to say that he survived the Nazi years, ever so barely (saved, in fact, by the fire-bombing of Dresden, which enabled him and his non-Jewish wife Eva to escape from deportation scheduled for the next day), only to wind up in Soviet-controlled East Germany, which he initially believed held the moral high ground over what he considered essentially a Nazi successor state in West Germany. His opinion of the German Federal Republic (West Germany) never improved, but as an unreconstructed political liberal he came to understand the basic fascism of the German Democratic Republic.

In a diary entry of August 10, 1957, Klemperer wrote:
I am so disgusted, I see the mendacity on both sides and everywhere. Everywhere it is power that is at stake, between states, between parties, within parties. Everyone constantly talks about morality, and everyone lies. At the moment things are more brutal, Asiatic here than in the Adenauer state [referring to the man known as "der Alte," "the Old Man," Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), West German chancellor from 1949 to 1963]. But over there is the most blatant return to Nazism -- here to Bolshevism. De profundissimus.

I apologize for giving such an inadequate representation of the experience and thinking of this remarkable man. The final entries of his diary, with their awareness of impending death, which he both dreaded and hoped for (we're left to imagine the three and a half months between the last entry he was able to make, in October 1959, and his death in February 1960), was a more difficult and painful parting than I've had with most of the people I've lost in my actual life. But one thing I hope will nevertheless come through in this diary entry is the well-founded depth of Victor K's despair.

We can count ourselves lucky that we haven't reached that stage. But we have one political party that has now made this its actual agenda, and people like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay did everything in their power to turn the country into a one-party state. And important segments of the other party -- the crypto-Republican DLC-ers, the "insider" careerist Emanuelites -- have resisted only insofar as the Rove-DeLay agenda didn't allow for a share for them. and another that resists it only when convenient.

As of now we still have a clear electoral choice. But with half the country apparently joyfully embracing insanity, well, I think Victor K would have understood what I'm feeling.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*If you're not familiar with Victor Klemperer and wonder, as I did when I first heard the name, whether he was any relation to the great conductor Otto Klemperer, the answer is yes, they were first cousins (meaning, obviously, that their fathers were brothers), though their relationship was fairly slight. Readers of Peter Heyworth's biography of the conductor know, however, that Victor's oldest brother, Georg, a distinguished medical professor who specialized in neuroscience and wound up settling in Boston, played an important role in Otto K's life.

Victor was clearly intimidated by his famous cousin's celebrity, but there's a poignant episode in the postwar diaries when Otto K is guest-conducting in Dresden and makes a considerable effort to establish contact with his cousin. (It didn't succeed. Victor was in Berlin at the time.)



Awhile ago a colleague passed on this melancholy note to a list I'm on:
When I signed in this AM at Yahoo, one of the lead stories was:

"Obama blames Wall Street woes on GOP Policies."

Five minutes later the Obama story was replaced by:

"McCain says his highest priority will be to reform Wall Street."

This is just one example of what we, and the Obama Campaign, are up against.

I suppose our new mistress of American finance Governor Who??? will tell us again -- assuming she's asked -- that the problem at Lehman Bros. and Merrill Lynch was all those taxpayers dollars we've been shoveling in.




So it turns out that in nearly identical talking points -- or should we call them "blithering point" -- the Ticket from Hell is out there blithering about how they're going to "reform" Wall Street, ending such abusive practices as those shockingly abusive golden parachutes given to failed corporate executives to make them go away. (And even as commentators commentate that if the Lehman Bros. "problem" hadn't been resolved by this AM, the entire financial sector was set to go down the tubes, Young Johnny assures us that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. As if he would know a fundamental of the economy if it kicked him in the groin.)

There isn't a syllable or pause for breath anywhere in this that isn't a bald-faced, unmitigated lie. We've got a pair of lying ignoramuses spewing garbage that everyone with a working brain knows is a flat-out lie. Nobody is more squarely in favor of the rankest corporate abuses than these two, whose entire careers, in fact their entire lives, are paid for entirely by corporate abuses. It would be no exaggeration to say that Young Johnny McCranky and Governor Who??? literally are corporate abuses. It is the only reason that either of them exists as anything but a burden to their own families.

You can laugh or cry, but of course we all know that one of Young Johnny's chiefest economic advisers, seriously rumored to be VP timber before Governor Who??? was invented, ousted HP CEO Carly Fiorina, is one of the worst golden-parachute abusers, having walked away from her catastrophic tenure with some $42M. (And now our Carly is whining that Tina Fey's dazzling SNL impersonation of Governor Who??? was "sexist" (and Amy Poehler's portrayal of Hillary Clinton in the same sketch was what, Carly?). I suppose Carly is touch about preserving her status as one of the dumbest people on the planet, in which case she needn't worry. Not only one of the dumbest, but one of the most totally corrupt beneficiaries of the corporate malfeasance the GOP ticket-toppers lyingly claim they will reform.

But aren't they biting the corporate hands that feed them?

Now you might wonder: Aren't McCranky and Who??? asking for trouble among the very people they're most dependent on right now, the corporate lions who are finally shoveling cash into their campaign?

And you might have a point, if anybody with even minimal brain activity thought they meant a word of what they're saying. But of course every CEO with one of those golden parachutes written into his/her contract knows for a guaranteed certainty that they're kidding -- just making up stupid little stories to tell to incredibly stupid voters so gullible that they'll apparently believe anything. And of course the media will pass on all the lies without even cracking a smile, because . . . well, because that's what they believe they're paid to do.

Anytime either McCranky or Who??? opens his/her lying mouth, it should be taken for granted that he/she has simply edited out the announcement that what follows is the Lies of the Day. Really, they should begin each spiel, "Oh wait, I've got one!" and then, in Maxwell Smart mode, say, "Would you believe that . . . ?"

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At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


-- German colonel Werner Klemperer, in a TV Show

At 3:23 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Close. Werner Klemperer, who played Colonel Klink, and was a professional-quality violinist before he turned to acting, was the son of Victor Klemperer's cousin "the musician Otto Klemperer." (There may actually be a good reason why Victor generally referred to cousin Otto this way in his diaries. The oldest son of Victor's brother Georg -- that's right, the distinguished neurosurgeon -- was also named Otto.)

Now Germans are not generally known for a ready sense of humor, and Wikipedia's entry on Werner Klemperer contains a glorious quote I'd never heard, namely Otto Klemperer's response to seeing Hogan's Heroes for the first time:

"[Werner] Klemperer was very conscious of the fact that he was playing a German officer under the command of Nazis, and agreed to play Klink only on the condition that he would be portrayed as a fool who never succeeded. When Klemperer's father, the famous conductor, saw his first episode of Hogan's Heroes, he said to his son, 'Your work is good...but who is the author of this material?'"

"Who is the author of this material?" I love that!


At 4:18 PM, Blogger Dr. Tex Nology said...

Yes, yes ... I'm on board.
I'm running to my desk, getting a Sharpie, and making myself a "Governor Who???" T-shirt.
... in fact ... now that I'm thinking about it ... I think I'll also start wearing oversize shoes and a Bozo the Clown wig ... and run for president myself.

Because it's impossible to outsmart the Republicans.
I think the only way to win them over is to out-dumb them.

I was just talking to someone today about how, during Nixon's term, we thought it couldn't get worse.
Until Reagan came along with his trickle down.
And we thought it couldn't get worse.
Until W came along ... and we really really thought it just couldn't possibly get worse.
But now I understand ... with McPOW and WHO???

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Original1 said...

We are becoming a nation of sheeple which is scarier than all the garbage coming over the tube. The movie Idiocracy came to mind while I was reading this blog. Everyone should watch it. One should also listen to Jackson Brown's "Lives in the Balance" or better yet watch the videos on You-tube (several versions). He points out that "we sell our presidents the same way we sell our clothes and our cars". Our society is becoming indistinguishable from "Reality TV". Thanks for the great article.

At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad all the liberals are having such a hard time about McCain and Palin getting some attention. You can bad mouth them all you want. The election and the votes will tell the will of the people. All the people. Not just YOUR people. The rest of us have a voice at the ballot box, no matter how much you may hate the thought! And we DO have thoughts. We're not all "ignorant" just because we don't agree with all this liberalism.
Sorry. The TRUTH hurts sometimes!

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Dr. Tex Nology said...

sorry anonymous ...
you're right ...
didn't mean to hurt your feelings ...
but I bet you'd like me better
if you saw me in my Bozo wig.

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyway, great post. I just had to mention Hogan.

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The methods and devices used by the GOP are cultic in nature. They are busy redfining everything including history to suite their "beliefs". There is an entire alternate reality there if you really want to go all in.

Just look at Anonymous' comment. McCain's lies (which are objectively verifiable) are "liberals...having a hard time with McCain". Being disgusted and bewildered by the lies is just "bad mouthing".

Republicans and their surrogates have been working for years to make "liberal" their catchall boogeyman for all things evil....but really it's just the "other".

Reality is just your "opinion" now. McCain is lying? Then you are a liberal. Did a paper print a story that you don't want to believe? Then it's a liberal paper or the writer is biased. It can't go unnoticed that a large part of the McCain campaign is outraged at "bias" and accusations that the press is being "unfair" especially in the coverage of Sarah Palin. It's not just certain elements of society or particular news outlets that they ultimately want to discredit, but reality itself.

At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Republicans are rebutting what they describe as smears against Palin. Last week, McCain's campaign formed a "truth squad," which includes current and former GOP politicians who agree to speak with reporters


At 7:51 AM, Blogger Kermis21a said...

Timmy, you are absolutely correct about the strategy the GOP is now using to counter anyone who points out the dishonesty or hypocristy of McCain/Palin: whine about the bias of the presenter rather than actually address the details of the issues. In their fevered little imaginations, if you don't like the failed policies of the Republican Party - policies which have belly-flopped time and time and time again - then you are simply "biased" and being unfair.

My local paper (The Boston Globe) has had its opinion page infested lately with the juvenile rants of mindless right-wingers shrieking that anyone who dares question the qualifications or competence of Sarah Palin is just a liberal with an axe to grind. No, it just couldn't be possible that people might find her completely incapable of serving as VP (or even Governor of Alaska, as her track record is starting to show) - if you find her dishonest or self-serving you must simply be a liberal meanie.

What I especially love is how the Republicans are frantically trying to ignore the ever-growing list of allegations against Palin which demonstrate her vindictive spite and sheer ignorance. Here is quite possibly the most unqualified candidate ever to be presented to the American people and the Republicans think it's just so unfair that anyone examine her past with a critical eye or voice any doubts about her ability to perform the job as VP.

Sarah Palin may be just another in a long string of a fundie wackos unfit for public office, but she doesn't scare me anywhere as much as the mindset of her supporters. These people are hell-bent on proclaiming her the greatest Republican since Lincoln, and never mind those mean-spirited, biased liberals who say otherwise with their nasty unpleasant facts and quotes.


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