As John mentioned a little bit ago, the new Crooks and Liars book Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane, cowritten by John and me (with a huge assist from the whole C&L team), is about to hit the shelves -- it's officially due out on bookstore shelves June 1, though it's already available through Amazon.
Stephen Levingston at the Washington Post asked us to write up a piece illustrating one of the book's chief theses -- namely, that the American Right, embodied nowadays in the Tea Party movement, now widely embraces a belief in things that are provably untrue.
The piece ran in the Post this week: "10 fictitious Tea Party beliefs":
We’ll admit up-front that the title of our forthcoming book,“Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane,” indulges in some rhetorical imprecision: conservatives in the United States are of course not really insane in any clinical or legal sense, and we are not suggesting they undergo sanity hearings to determine if their rights should be suspended. We mean “insane” in the common-sense meaning of the word -- having taken leave of their senses.
What other word, after all, can properly describe the behavior of people who adamantly insist on believing things that are provably untrue? Einstein facetiously defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Defiantly clinging to exploded fantasies and thoroughly debunked false “facts,” even when evidence of their falsity is planted directly in front of them, is a kind of insanity too.
The numbers of things that the American Right -- embodied in its wildly popular new “grassroots” Tea Party movement – believes but that are provably untrue is actually a pretty long list. But we’ve put together the Top 10, listed by importance in their increasingly Planet Bizarro-like worldview:
1. The birth-certificate conspiracy. Reality: Not even official birth certificates from Hawaii, newspaper clippings from 1961, and the testimony of state officials will convince the true-blue Tea Partiers. Which is why WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah lectured the National Tea Party Convention for an hour about the “truth” of the birth-certificate story.
2. Death panels. Reality: PolitiFact named Sarah Palin’s Facebook invention its “Lie of the Year,” and the belief was thoroughly exposed as a falsehood by every news network (even Fox). Yet Palin still insists that the panels exist somewhere in the health-care reform bill that was signed into law, its actual language notwithstanding.
3. Obama is a Muslim/Socialist/Fascist. Glenn Beck’s fantasy of the week -- one week Obama was a Socialist, the next he was a Communist, then a Fascist. Then it was on to Marxism and Maoism -- was avidly adopted by sign-bearing fans at Tea Party gatherings, who sometimes shared Beck’s confusion by just calling Obama All of the Above. Reality: Give us a break. Obama’s self-evident cautious centrism, embodied by his health-care reform package stripped of a public option, as well as his more recent embrace of a limited offshore drilling program, has infuriated liberals in his party -- but it hasn’t stopped Tea Partiers from denouncing the president as a radical anyway.
4. Obama is going to take away our guns. Well, the NRA managed to scare a whole lot of people into buying up every gun and piece of ammunition in sight the first year or so after Obama’s election. And at least five police officers died because the suspects they were arresting feared Obama was going to take away their guns. But Obama not only has adhered to his promise not to address gun-control issues, there hasn’t been even a breath of it from his administration. Which, of course, just makes the paranoids that much more paranoid: It’s proof that he’s really up to something.
5. Obama is raising our taxes. Reality: Obama lowered taxes for 95 percent of working Americans in his first year in office. But, you know, he’s a liberal Democrat – and for true-blue right-wing folks, that ALWAYS means a tax hike.
6. Fascism is a left-wing phenomenon. We can thank Jonah Goldberg -- with a big assist from Beck -- for the popularity of this one, even though Goldberg’s thesis has been demolished and angrily dismissed by academic historians. It’s especially come in handy for Tea Partiers with Obama-as-Hitler signs, who are not impressed by those pointy-headed professorial types anyway.
7. Global warming is a hoax. So Sean Hannity assures us, citing the Climategate brouhaha -- which was itself shown largely to be a hoax of its own. Meanwhile, the world’s ocean levels keep rising, and glaciers and the polar ice cap keep receding -- regardless of the endless words thrown up denying that they are.
8. Some 16,000 new IRS agents will enforce the new health care reform act by throwing you in jail. Reality: The IRS is actually only increasing its spending in the coming budget year as it normally would -- but some Republican operatives decided to figure out how many positions its increased budget would buy, and came up with 16,000, a figure that then became gospel on Newt Gingrich’s lips. According to the same mythmakers, this nonexistent new army of health care police was going to start throwing people in jail if they failed to buy health insurance -- though in fact, the only penalties contemplated for such failures are fines and taxes.
9. Two million people were at the 9/12 March on Washington. At the culmination of a monthlong promotion (highlighted by a national Tea Party Express bus tour) by Beck and Fox News, about 70,000 people gathered on the National Mall on September 12 to protest. Beck cited an erroneous early report that over a million had shown up. Later that grew to be two million, the figure now commonly cited by Tea Party leaders as evidence of their tremendous numerical force.
10. The Tea Parties are a non-partisan, broad grassroots movement. Sure, if by non-partisan you mean rabidly paleo-conservative, to the point of even dismissing Republicans, and by grassroots you mean fake populism organized and whipped up by the most popular cable-news network on television, with a heaping helping of corporate financing.
Tea Party folks and their defenders also want to believe that they’re just ordinary Americans who want to be serious about helping their country. But it’s pretty hard to fit that description when you embrace plain old nuttiness.
While we're at it, there's been a lot more great reading out there this past week on the Tea Parties that definitely underscore our thesis. Here's a rundown:
Adele Stan at AlterNet, "Dismiss the Tea Parties at Your Peril -- They're a Force to Be Reckoned With":
While it's true that the astroturfers are adept at exploiting certain factions of the movement, the Tea Party movement itself is an organic creature, often incoherent and confused in its aims. Grassroots chapters meet in homes and halls far beyond the machinations of the Beltway-industrial complex. Those invested in diminishing the movement's importance point to its lack of organization and lucidity.
But those are exactly the reasons it remains so dangerous: anybody with a paranoid claim that seems plausible in the right-wing universe can pick off a portion of the movement, and with some money and moxie, mobilize a throng of foot-soldiers for his or her cause.
Chip Berlet, Taking Tea Partiers Seriously:
But no matter how the electoral political battles turn out, the trivialization of rightwing populism must stop. It is toxic to democracy in a general sense. And it also results in an increasingly hostile environment for immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Arabs, reproductive rights activists, and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons.
Arun Gupta at TruthOut, "Republicans and the Tea Party of No":
Like the Clinton years, no matter how much Obama tries to appease Republicans, he will remain under attack and be held responsible for bizarre crimes and conspiracies because the right has nothing to gain from compromise. In fact, Republican opposition has devolved from the philosophical to the tactical. The right-wing noise machine frames Obama and the Democrats as the source of all evil, making compromise virtually impossible. Republicans now assail Obama policies they used to champion from the market-friendly health care law and huge tax cuts in the stimulus bill to the bipartisan deficit commission and pay-as you-go budget rules.
At the same time, the Obama administration has stoked support for the Tea Party by providing aid and comfort to Wall Street rather than Main Street. The Republicans have exploited legitimate anxieties over high unemployment, a shrinking economy and onerous taxes by scapegoating the weak and marginal for policies that are structural and historical in nature.
The lesson for Obama and Democrats is not that they went too far to the “left,” it’s that they went too far to the right. Obama had the political capital and the leverage over the banking and auto industries to push for a “Green New Deal” that could have restructured the transportation and energy sectors and created millions of new jobs. Slashing the bloated military budget while fighting for some type of single-payer health care – instead of a plan that uses public money to subsidize the for-profit healthcare industry – budget deficits could have been constrained while reducing the financial burden of medical bills for most American households. Implementing such an agenda could have created a mass constituency that would fight for a progressive vision and against the right’s repressive politics.