The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

The far right and it’s opportunist allies owe America an apology

Posted by Bill Nance on September 29, 2008

Ever since Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 with the full-throated support of organizations like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the far right and theocrats in America have been working hard to push their agendas with lies, red herrings and straw men substituting for honest debate.

The culture wars, which really got started in earnest in that year have since shaped American politics. George H.W. Bush was anathema to these groups in 1980.  Bush was an old fashioned Rockefeller Republican, disdainful of the back-woods religionists and self proclaimed red-necks. Only the hapless and sissified Michael Dukakis was able to win him a term in office in 1988.

Adding to the actual divides in American society were the opportunists. Men and women who saw a chance to make a quick buck exploiting the far right, and were particularly adept at manipulating the press and the media, as well as organizing people around particularly divisive social issues.

I was amazed at the effectiveness of these tactics when, in 1992, the right went collectively insane over the election of Bill Clinton. I recall writing an editorial in January of 1993 calling for people to allow Clinton to at least be sworn in before organizing campaigns to oppose virtually everything, real or imagined, he was supposedly going to do.

Talk radio has proved to be particularly effective at carrying water for the far right. Buffoons like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity et al. have influenced (and systematically lied) to millions, setting up caricatures of their political opponents and promptly destroying them, claiming intellectual superiority while neatly avoiding all substance.

Fox News, another opportunistic organization, has come to television to deliver content devoid of most substance, but full of none-too-subtle propaganda for the Republican Party in general, and an extreme wing of that party in particular. This it has done for lucre, I believe, not primarily from any ideology. Nevertheless, the injury is the same

The damage done to the American polity by these people and organizations is frankly incalculable.

They have effectively destroyed the fourth estate as a functioning entity for tens of millions of Americans. America can survive many assaults, but it cannot long survive when half the population feels they can trust the press.

Fed with slickly packaged propaganda from far-right media outlets specifically aimed at appealing to fear, prejudice and religion, many Americans entirely discount information which comes from any other source. Newspapers which could virtually paper their walls with Pulitzer Prizes are ignored as mere agents of some wide-ranging far-left media conspiracy. Television news coverage, already under enormous financial pressures has succumbed to the temptation to substitute infot-tainment for actual news and the operative of “if it bleeds it leads” has played into Americans’ worst fears, however overblown.

At no time have the effects of this nearly 30-year campaign of disinformation and demonization been more apparent than in this election cycle.

Talk to a McCain/Palin supporter about facts, particularly the quite disturbing ones about Sarah Palin, and you are met with a barrage of complaints about “liberal media bias.” As though the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS and ABC have all conspired to cook up lies about the Republican ticket in a nefarious scheme to put Barack Obama in the White House.

But it’s not just the ugly facts about Palin. It’s virtually any topic. When presenting generally accepted facts, one is repeatedly met with the argument that these are not facts at all. When asked to present evidence for this disagreement, the best most of these prisoners of the far-right can do is to make counter claims based upon hearsay, talk radio opinions or various logical fallacies. Well reported facts, facts which are not under dispute by any serious person, are treated as scurrlious claims made by the vast left-wing media conspiracy.

This should not be surprising, considering that these tactics of debate are mainstay of far-right media outlets, from talk radio to Anne Coulter’s trollish little screeds.

The damage this has done to American political life cannot be measured in terms of a single election. But that damage has badly weakened and continues to chip away at what remains at the core of an essential requirement of a functioning democracy. -If no one can agree as to matters of fact, it is impossible to have a conversation.

We may disagree on many things. I was, and remain, a firm supporter of the idea that deposing Saddam Hussein was a moral necessity. That is my opinion.  Whether it was waranted or wise is another opinion. But That it occurred is not subject to debate.

Perhaps I exaggerate in this case, but I hope you see the point.

If we cannot agree on basic facts, how can we debate? The answer is simply, that we cannot.

This reduces every political question to a matter of who can sell their “version of the facts” more effectively. Actual debates over substantial issues becomes impossible, because for every appeal to fact, the answer can always be that the fact doesn’t exist.

The poisoning of the well of information which the far-right and their political and media operatives have accomplished so very well could be the death of American political life. It has already led to astonishing erosion of civilility and civil liberties. It has led to the suspension of Habeus Corpus, and candidates for president openly calling for torture with hardly a peep of protest. All this from a climate of fear and distrust carefully manipulated meet the political ends of one ideology.

We may never recover from this damage. -But let there be no doubt who caused it.

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