Sunday, September 19, 2010

From an eyewitness to history: "This country just can't deal with reality any more"


"Though lying is not foreign to U.S. politics and media, telling the truth has always been a fundamental American value, one that is vital to democracy. The great task of restoring the Republic must include honest efforts to dig out recent history's ground truth."
-- Robert Parry, in the blogpost "This Country

by Ken

Lately it seems I"m writing every other day about the apparently finalized divorce of a significant chunk of the American electorate from reality. So, with a caveat I'll register below, I heartily commend this piece by veteran Washington journalist Robert Parry on Alternet.

Parry, who's been on the Washington beat since 1977 (his bio notes that he "broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek"), says he's --
had a front-row seat to this sad devolution of American reason. As the process advanced, I have at times felt like a Cassandra trying to warn others about the risks of abandoning fact and rationality in favor of propaganda of whatever stripe.

Here's how he frames the issue:
As Election Day 2010 approaches -- as the United States wallows in the swamps of war, recession and environmental degradation -- the consequences of the nation's three-decade-old decoupling from reality are becoming painfully obvious.

Yet, despite the danger, the nation can't seem to move in a positive direction, as if the suctioning effect of endless spin, half-truths and lies holds the populace in place, a force that grows ever more powerful like quicksand sucking the country deeper into the muck -- to waist deep, then neck deep.

Trapped in the mud, millions of Americans are complaining about their loss of economic status, their sense of powerlessness, their nation's decline. But instead of examining how the country stumbled into this morass, many still choose not to face reality.

Instead of seeking paths to the firmer ground of a reality-based world, people from different parts of the political spectrum have decided to embrace unreality even more, either cynically as a way to delegitimize a political opponent or because they've simply become addicted to the crazy.

Parry pays appropriate tribute to the delusionally (or deceptively) grass-roots teabaggers, whose madness, he says,
is aided and abetted by a now fully formed right-wing media apparatus that can popularize any false narrative (like Islam planning to conquer Christian America as represented by the building of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero).

The Right sees an advantage in spreading even the nuttiest of smears against President Barack Obama. So you have right-wing author Dinesh D'Souza and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich concocting a toxic brew of racist nonsense about Obama somehow channeling the anti-colonialism of his late Kenyan father.

"Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s," D'Souza wrote in Forbes. "This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son."

"Incredibly, indeed," Parry writes, pointing out that the apparent evidence is the title, Dreams of My Father, that Obama gave to "his touching story about his youth." The book, he notes, "focused on the absence of his father from his life." It appears that the crackpots and liars of the Far, Far Right have gone beyond judging books by their covers; they now imagine they've digested the book based on their own venomously addle-pated misreading of the title.

Of course D'Souza has made quite a career out of just this sort of flagrant misrepresentation. Really the only question is whether he's a moron, simply too stupid to know that not a word that comes out of his mouth or his word processor is true, or he's just a garden-variety right-wing liar. (Are the choices really mutually exclusive?)

"In a less crazy time," Parry writes, "one might have expected D'Souza's claptrap to be denounced by politicians across the political spectrum, but that is not the time we live in." Instead, we have Newt Gingrich "prais[ing] D'Souza's racist psycho-babble as the 'most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama,' adding that D'Souza unlocked the mystery of who Obama is by addressing his 'Kenyan, anticolonial behavior,'" and claiming that he and D'Souza are "unmasking Obama who has 'played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.'"

Gingrich's role in this doesn't surprise Parry, who says he's watched him --
since he was a freshman congressman in 1979, when I was a congressional correspondent for the Associated Press. Though I have met many politicians in my career and know they can be an egotistical bunch, Gingrich's burning ambition -- his readiness to do whatever was necessary -- stood out even then.

Unlike many other congressional Republicans of the time, Gingrich cared little for constructive governance but a great deal for political gamesmanship. He was already plotting his route to national power and was ready to use whatever tactics would advance his personal and ideological cause.

But to understand how we got where we are now, we have to back further, he says.
America's decoupling from reality -- and its disappearance into the swamp of unreality -- began in earnest with the rise of actor and ad pitchman Ronald Reagan, who crafted a host of get-something-for-nothing policies that appealed to a nation that was struggling to adjust to a more complex world.

Reagan promised that tax cuts tilted to the rich would generate more revenue and eliminate the federal debt; that this money also could finance a massive military buildup which would frighten America's enemies and restore national prestige; that freeing corporations from government regulations and from powerful unions would herald a new day of prosperity; that the country could turn its back on alternative energy and simply drill for more oil; that whites no longer had to feel guilty about the plight of blacks; that traditional "values" -- i.e. rejection of the "counter-culture" -- would bring back the good old days when men were men and women were women.

Despite the appeal of Reagan's message to many Americans, it was essentially an invitation to repudiate reality. . . .

He draws up a bill of particulars on Reagan: thumbing his nose at his predecessor jimmy Carter's warning to develop sources of renewable energy, the campaigns "to break unions and to free corporations from many government regulations," muscling the CIA to exaggerate the threat posed by the already-declining Soviet Union (and whom did his hand-picked director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, find to ensure "the scariest intelligence estimates possible" but "a young CIA careerist named Robert Gates"? hmm, that name seems to ring a bell), and unleashing the fledgling neocon intellectuals to misrepresent and outright lie in the lovable way they've been doing ever since.
These techniques proved very successful, in large part, because many senior executives at leading news outlets -- from the AP where general manager Keith Fuller was a Reagan enthusiast to the New York Times where executive editor Abe Rosenthal was himself a neocon -- sided with the propagandists against their own journalists

Meanwhile, the American Right began building its own media infrastructure with wealthy foundations footing the bills for a host of political magazines. Far-right religious cult leader Sun Myung Moon poured billions of mysterious dollars into the Washington Times and other media operations.

By contrast, the American Left mostly under-funded or even de-funded its scattered media outlets. Some, like Ramparts, were shuttered, while other formerly left-of-center publications, such as The New Republic and The Atlantic, changed hands to neocon and conservative owners.

Parry traces this unholy brew through the right-wing propaganda assaults of the Clinton years, with some personal history of confronting right-wing propagandists with reality which would be funny if . . . well, if it were funny, and then into the glory years -- for reality deniers -- the G. W. Bush regime. It's a masterful job, and I'm not foolish enough to attempt to encapsule it.

The one point with which I take issue with Parry is a diversion that smacks of the old "on the one hand, on the other hand" journalistic cliché in which he seems to suggest that the Left has joined in promoting unreality, charging "some on the Left" with "giv[ing] the neocons a taste of their own disinformation medicine," by claiming that Chimpy the Prez "let 9/11 happen," rather than being basically incompetent.

I'm not saying these "9/11 truthers" didn't exist, but even Parry acknowledges that it was a "small group," and what is this doing being passed off as some sort of counterpart of the right-wing assault on reality? For that matter, without going so far as to suggest that Chimpy "let 9/11 happen," I think even the most disinterested observer has to acknowledge that the Bush family had deep ties with the Saudis, and that some mighty strange things happened involving friendly Saudi nationals in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, which could stand some explaining.

Nevertheless, wiith the election of Obama to the presidency, Parry seems to me back on incontrovertible ground. Again, I'm not going to preempt the excellent case he lays out. He summarizes: "The Right's media power has enabled the Republicans to portray Obama as some un-American 'other,' while the GOP has little fear that its spreading of racist-tinged conspiracy theories will hurt the party's election chances." He pays rightful tribute to David Frum, who has -- incredibly, to those of us familiar with his earlier career as a right-wing hack -- become a rare voice of sanity in right-wing ranks, on his way to the conclusion:
Despite some internal GOP critics like Frum, the Republican Party clearly feels that it has a winning formula, using such psychological warfare to exploit a confused and embittered electorate. That confidence will be tested on Nov. 2, although if most prognosticators are correct, the Republicans have good reason to feel confident.

Whatever happens on Election Day, the longer-term challenge will be to rebuild an old-fashioned commitment to fact and reason within both American journalism and the broader political system.

Though lying is not foreign to U.S. politics and media, telling the truth has always been a fundamental American value, one that is vital to democracy.

The great task of restoring the Republic must include honest efforts to dig out recent history's ground truth, which can then be used to build a path out of the disinformation swamp and onto the dry land of rational political discourse

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At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem isn't the teabaggers. They have a majority of nothing, but despite being insane and racist, their anger is motivated out a country in decline. The Democratic elite are the ones disconnected from reality. They seem to think a country facing our myriad of problems just needs a new logo and some key chains. The sad fact is the Democratic Party is incapable of dealing with reality, so why would we expect morons on the right to deal with it?

At 8:02 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

This is a splendid point you make, Anon, and goodness knows, Howie and I have devoted plenty of attention to it.

But when one of our two major parties goes off the reality standard, without apology or looking back, and gets away with it, then yes, I think this is a critical problem -- and one of the reason spineless Dems are such a problem. When people like Master Rahm tell them the reality is that they have to fight unreality with unreality of their own, it can be alarmingly persuasive, to people who don't have much in the way of principle or conviction to begin with.


At 5:35 AM, Anonymous Mark Scarbrough said...

However, did you note in today's Times, in the article about tagging Repubs with the tea-bag brand, that the assumption is that Emmanuel is leaving--and that the administration is currently consumed with finding a replacement. That little tidbit is buried in the middle of the story--but I was amazed that it was simply taken for granted. I think Chicago had better brace itself for the Emmanuel onslaught, but I also think that it's high time someone came into the position who can better deal with the political landscape--that is, who can help re-election campaigns by discovering candidates who stand for something, rather than those that appeal to the vanishing and perhaps even non-existent middle that everyone chases in their delusions. We need candidates who present a cogent, crafted reality, not ones that try desperately to adapt to the wind machine that Parry so accurately describes (despite his on the one hand/on the other BS).

At 12:09 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

(1) First, let me try to repost my additional comment from last night, which got garbledgarbledgarbled somehow in postingpostingposting:

"It occurs to me that by leaving out the guts of Robert Parry's argument, his detailing of how exactly the Right's separation from reality occurred, I've also taken for granted his explanation for why it succeeded. The people who planned and executed the strategy are of course far from being morons. They are exceedingly shrewd, calculating strategists, and while Democrats could certainly have done more to combat their strategy than shuffling and hemming and hawing, it would have been hellaciously difficult.

"Of course it's going to be that much harder now to undo the damage."

(2) Mark, as to your comment about Master Rahm, or rather what I think of as "Rahmism," I couldn't agree more that it was about as disastrously ineffectual a response as could have been put up against the onslaught of the Fake Reality Right.

Unfortunately, while I certainly welcome the Master's hoped-for departure from the White House (and also cross my fingers for poor Chicago -- though wouldn't it be fantastic if the voters there said, "Uh, we don't think so"?), my fear is that there's an ample supply of Rahmists to take his place. Just as Rahmist thinking has continued to dominate the Democratic congressional leadership since he left, it seems likely to prevail in the White House. Rahm clone Jim Messina remains in place, and whether he's promoted to the Master's slot or somebody else is brought in as chief of staff, doesn't it seem pretty clear by now that the job Rahm has been doing is the job the president wants done?



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