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OVERHEARD AT THE STORE! In a fascinating post, Digby describes the carnage from a thirty-year war: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2010

Who enabled Gingrich: In the wake of his recent lunacy, concerning those Kenyan anti-colonial attitudes, it’s important to recall a key point:

Newt Gingrich has always been like this.

In 1990, an editorial in the New York Times reviewed the gentleman’s method (click here). This was five years before Gingrich became speaker of the House. He was still just minority whip:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/20/90): The Politics of Slash and Burn

''Sick.'' ''Traitors.'' ''Bizarre.'' ''Self-serving.'' ''Shallow.'' ''Corrupt.'' ''Pathetic.'' ''Shame.'' The group that urged political candidates to use these epithets has since regretted suggesting the word ''traitors,'' in response to inquiries from the press. But the others were allowed to stand; they appear in a glossary that a conservative Republican group recently mailed to Republican state legislative candidates.

The group is GOPAC, the G.O.P. Political Action Committee. Its general chairman is Representative Newt Gingrich. With the pamphlet, ''Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,'' comes a letter from Mr. Gingrich himself. Its message to candidates: Step up invective. Use words like these to describe opponents. These words work.

Mr. Gingrich's injunction represents the worst of American political discourse, which reached a low during the dispiriting Presidential campaign of 1988.

[…]

The GOPAC glossary may herald a descent into even lower levels of discourse. It comes blessed by a politician of some influence—the Republican whip in the House.

Maybe we shouldn’t call our opponents “traitors,” GOPAC apologetically said. We should just call them “sick” and “bizarre.”

This was Gingrich in 1990. Everyone has always known this. Four years later, this sick, bizarre man crafted one of his many sick theories, suggesting that Susan Smith drowned her infant children in South Carolina because of the rot of liberal values. In 1995, he blamed “the welfare state” and “the moral decay of the world the left is defending” for the murder of an Illinois woman and two of her children.

Everyone has always known that Gingrich is like this. But over the course of the past fifteen years, the mainstream “press corps” fell in line with a different, much-preferred narrative. In this preferred group narrative, mainstream journalists constantly say how smart Newt Gingrich is. Gingrich is a major intellectual, just full of ideas, journalists constantly tell us.

This is constantly said about Gingrich. Plainly, it’s a standard script—a controlling narrative the press has adopted as a group, as it so often does. Newt Gingrich is a brilliant man! Down through the years, the mainstream press has recited this script in much the same way it recited two others:

John McCain is the world’s most honest man!
Al Gore has a problem with the truth!

Newt Gingrich is very smart! Adopting this plainly ridiculous script, the mainstream press corps stopped discussing the GOPAC days (and methods); instead, they framed Gingrich in this new manner. It’s amazing how rarely the mainstream press ever recalls those GOPAC days. In this manner, they have helped to reinvent Newt. They’ve remade him as something he’s not.

In this way, a sick, bizarre man has been strongly enabled.

Why do mainstream “journalists” play these games? In part, because they’re political cowards—and we liberals often get conned by these people. Consider the lofty column Nicholas Kristof wrote in the September 5 New York Times.

Just in case you didn’t know it, Kristof is deeply moral. He opposes “screeds against Catholics [in] the 19th century.” He opposes the killing of Catholics and Mormons during that period. He opposes the burning of witches—and the past internment of Japanese-Americans. He opposes the way the United States “turn[ed] away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.”

He even opposes the way false stories about non-existent orgies “inflamed a mob of patriots in 1834 to attack an Ursuline convent outside Boston and burn it down.”

He opposes the way “Chinese in America were denounced, persecuted and lynched.” He opposes the way “anti-Semitic screeds regularly warned that Jews were plotting to destroy the United States in one way or another.” He’s even against what Father Coughlin did, back in FDR’s day!

Such columns send thrills up liberal legs. But who is Kristof against today? The lofty fellow named very few names when it came to his country’s current problems—in particular, to current attitudes about Muslim Americans. Many people seem to be playing sick games in this area, Brother Gingrich among them. But Kristof named only one current name, in passing. Nor did he bother explaining to readers what that man had done wrong:

KRISTOF (9/5/10): Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears—the 19th- and 20th-century equivalents of Glenn Beck.

Is Beck a “demagogue playing upon [people’s] fears?” Maybe. But Kristof offered this one hit-and-run attack, without attempting to explain what Beck has done. No other contemporary figure got named—though Kristof did hit hard at Coughlin.

Who has enabled Gingrich? Lofty people like Nicholas Kristof! According to Nexis, Gingrich’s name has appeared in Kristof’s column just twice—in a pair of glancing references in 2002 and 2003. But then, the Kristofs typically find the way to avoid challenging powerful figures on the right. They fill our heads with their lofty ideas—and they run from the fight.

Newt Gingrich has always been like this, dating back before 1990. But GOPAC’s list of nasty words has largely disappeared from journalistic memory. We’ve been handed a different preferred story line.

Why did that reinvention occur? People like Kristof won’t say.

A long-forgotten letter: To see that once-famous GOPAC letter, you know what to do: click here. This is what Gingrich has always been like. Over the years, the mainstream “press corps” agreed to forget about that.

Special report: Thirty-year war!

PART 1—OVERHEARD AT THE STORE (permalink): Last Friday, Digby offered one of the most fascinating posts you will ever see on the web. Her post concerned a trip to the grocery store. It documented the results of a thirty-year, undiscussed war.

This has been a war of disinformation, aimed at the future of Social Security. Its weapons were forged in “conservative” spin shops; after their perfection, these weapons were turned loose on the American people. Mainstream “journalists” and liberal “intellectual leaders” sat around snoring and twiddling thumbs as the thirty-year war ground on. Some liberal “intellectual leaders,” like Lawrence O’Donnell, have played active roles in the mayhem, right up to the present time.

Next week, O’Donnell gets his own nightly show on the “liberal” TV “news” channel!

As O’Donnell seizes his post, a commission formed by President Obama is considering possible cuts to Social Security benefits. There’s no reason to doubt that this could occur, given the conversation which occurred at Digby’s store—a conversation which transpires all over this war-torn land.

What follows is Digby’s account of a casual trip to the grocery store. What she heard results from a thirty-year war. It’s hard to pick highlights from this account. Every word is significant:

DIGBY (9/10/10): I was at the local Albertson's yesterday, very crowded. The check-out guy, a union member who went out on strike with all the other grocery workers in LA a couple of years ago, was chit-chatting with a woman who was checking out about $400.00 worth of items. So they had a long time to talk. The woman was saying that there's no money left in the social security system, that they'd spent it all. The clerk said, "Yeah, I heard that too, there's nothing left." The women went on to tell this horror story about how her mother died and when she went down to sign up for her mother's social security, they told her she wasn't entitled to it because she was over 18. (She was in her 40s.) The clerk and the two people ahead of me gasped and said "you're kidding" and "what happened to all that money she paid in then?" The clerk sagely replied, "it went into the congressmen's pockets that's what happened."

At this point I couldn't take it and I interjected that nobody has ever been entitled to inherit their mother's social security and they all insisted that you used to be able to do it. All three of them. I wasn't going to get into that absurdity in the grocery store, so I just said, "Look, the most important thing is your social security and it will be there for you unless you let your representatives mess with it right now. You should tell them you don't want them to do anything to social security." The clerk looked at the other customers and sort of wryly laughed, saying "I don't think that's right. It's not what I've heard." The woman whose mother had died recently said, "It's not true. When I went down there to collect my money they said there wasn't any left in the system. I want to know what happened to all my mother's money." The other person (also in her 40s) said, "all I know is that everybody says there won't be any money there for us.”

“If people are really this misinformed, I see no reason why the deficit scolds can't convince them that they are saving social security by cutting it,” Digby said. We’ll lodge one minor complaint about that statement (see below). But Digby is certainly right on her basic point. When people think the current system has gone belly-up, it’s easy to sell them on the need for “reform.” Of course they’ll accept future benefit cuts. They think the current system has folded.

“I swear this actually happened,” Digby said, as she introduced this story. But then, no well-informed person would doubt that it did. As we noted a few weeks ago, the public has held such bollixed views since at least 1994 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/16/10). In that year, the Associated Press reported a now-iconic survey of younger voters, aged 18 to 34. “Young Americans find it easier to believe in UFOs than the likelihood Social Security will be around when they retire,” the AP reported in September of that year. Among respondents, only 34 percent said they believed that Social Security would still exist when they retire.

That was the result of a survey conducted in 1994. In a survey conducted this very year, 60 percent of respondents told Gallup that they don’t expect to receive any Social Security benefits (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/10). This figure rose to 66 percent among respondents aged 35 to 54.

In fairness to Digby’s fellow citizens, some of their comments were perfectly reasonable. A woman in her 40s wondered where her late mother’s money had gone (that is, her mother’s payroll taxes). Depending on her age, that woman’s mother may have died without receiving any Social Security benefits at all, after a lifetime of paying into the system. That woman’s question is perfectly reasonable, although, in a better world, she would already know the answer. But then, why would we expect average people to understand the way Social Security works? Why would we expect average people to know how foolish it is to think that the system, if left alone, will ever go belly-up?

Can we talk? If the system is left alone, it’s utterly foolish for people to think that “there won't be any money there for us.” It’s also foolish to think that there is currently “no money left in the system.” It’s foolish to think that “the money” has “already been spent.” It’s foolish to think that the money has gone “into the congressmen's pockets.”

It has always been foolish to think these things—even in 1994, when massive numbers of younger voters said they didn’t think the program would be there for them. But it makes perfect sense that average people do think all these things, given the ugly, relentless conduct of that long, thirty-year war.

You see, for roughly the past thirty years, the American people have been aggressively disinformed about this crucial program. Repeatedly, they have heard strings of familiar, bogus statements—and they have rarely heard any attempts at rebuttal, correction or challenge. For the most part, this disinformation has come from “conservative” sources—but the “career liberal” world has rarely raised a finger to challenge this ugly war. Meanwhile, many of our liberal “intellectual leaders” have actively spread the disinformation. The rest of the liberal world has napped in the woods as this bombardment continued.

Digby’s post is very important. It helps us see the damage done by thirty years of war. That said, we would offer two minor complaints about the way Digby told this story:

One complaint concerns the way Digby framed her story. “If people are really this misinformed,” she said, “I see no reason why the deficit scolds can't convince them that they are saving social security by cutting it.” As noted, Digby’s analysis is right on the money—but we’d quarrel with part of her formulation. If people are this disinformed? Of course people are this disinformed! People have been this disinformed for several decades now! Throughout this period, the “liberal” world has persistently sat around and played, pretending that this problem doesn’t exist.

This brings us to a second minor complaint with Digby’s presentation. We think persistent progressive failure is lurking in this account:

DIGBY: If people are really this misinformed, I see no reason why the deficit scolds can't convince them that they are saving social security by cutting it. They're already there. At a time of economic insecurity, people are getting panicked about all sorts of things and the right wing media machine is using that panic to advance their agenda.

Without question, Digby’s highlighted statement is technically accurate. But as always, we liberals blame “the right wing media machine” while ignoring the active conduct of the mainstream press and the career liberal world. And as always, Digby’s high-credulity liberal commenters swung right into action—trashing Digby’s fellow citizens for their hopeless rank stupidity. In this reaction, these commenters displayed the rancid instincts of the classic pseudo-liberal, even as some of these commenters unknowingly recited points of right-wing disinformation themselves.

There is no reason to scorn the people with whom Digby spoke, though pseudo-liberals will always go there. Those people were simply repeating the things they’ve always “heard;” juts as a simple matter of fact, they were repeating what “everybody says.” Everybody has said this, for the past thirty years—and that includes some of the “liberal” heroes we get served on our liberal TVs.

Those people are the victims of a long war—a long war in which the “liberal” world, through its massive, world-class dumbness, has played both active and passive roles. Those people have been disinformed by skilled propagandists. But then again, so have many of Digby’s commenters, who couldn’t wait to say how dumb those hopeless non-liberals are.

Those stupid, dumb people aren’t in our tribe—so we dumb people attacked them.

Tomorrow: Convincing people to believe things which makes no earthly sense