Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dangerous Propaganda Merchants

It may be possible that the current propaganda merchants are unaware of the dangers posed by hate speech and fear mongering. Or it may otherwise be the case that they don’t care what dangerous forces they release in their quest for power.

One of the more disturbing calls to a recent Washington Journal was from a defender of the Tea Party movement who said he’d rather vote for a mentally unstable candidate who occasionally said nutty things than for your run-of-the-mill establishment candidate. Well he certainly has a wide range of choices and, unfortunately, there are probably other voters who feel the same way. What a novel way of dealing with the complexities of the modern world - - elect a bunch of unstable people to take over the reins of government.

That point of view helps to explain some of the positions the far right espouses and exemplifies the inability of many current candidates to contend with the intricacies of governing in a multi-national, multi-ethnic domestic and international environment - - a geopolitical landscape fraught with high-stakes decision-making moments that defy rigidly-held concepts of American exceptionalism. Throw in narrow exclusionary religious values and we face the prospect of becoming the kind of society we so earnestly oppose in other places.

And what are we to make of Sharron Angle’s definition of “enemies” in Congress as those who pass legislation that threatens “free markets”, whatever that means to someone of such limited intellect? There are levels of incomprehensible thought processes that rational people find hard to follow. And attempts by Republican Party advisors to mitigate some of her more inflammatory statements have only been partially effective. It is difficult to put a happy face on Angle’s statement that sometimes second-amendment solutions are needed to counter unacceptable electoral outcomes. Presumably if one thinks of elected government officials as enemies any course of action is warranted, but such thoughts should make reasonable people exceedingly nervous.

But for the simple-minded approach there’s always Sarah Palin who explained, during her stint as John McCain’s running mate, that her experience in Alaska’s government was especially significant in terms of national security. Clearly if the Russians were to strike us they’d hit Alaska first, it being so close and all. Apparently that fanciful analysis would inform whatever foreign policy she might formulate if given an opportunity. She and others seem blissfully unaware of the danger their super-silly rhetoric poses. Still Palin and the rest of the extremist fringe have captured the imagination of gullible voters despite a tumult of meaningless blather totally lacking in substance.

Now as a pastor in Florida threatens to commemorate 9/11 by having his congregation burn copies of the Koran, most political and religious leaders here have condemned his plan and asked him to refrain from such an action though some are strangely silent. Minority Leader Boehner, never one to pass up an opportunity to use events for partisan purposes, found a way to conflate the proposed Koran burning with what he claims as an inappropriate plan to build a Muslim cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero. Other conservatives have made much the same connection, proving once again that they are shameless in pursuit of their political goals.

It has become a habit among some conservatives and many in the Tea Party movement to toss around Nazi images and accuse the current administration of fascist behavior. But as Hitler’s regime in took hold in Germany one of its early propaganda iterations was the practice of burning “un-German” texts, among them writings by Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Erich Maria Remarque, Helen Keller and of course critics of the government and numerous Jewish writers. In a frightening forecast of things to come German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” (, on book burning)

Things have not progressed to that level in this country, but profound ignorance, fear and hatred have surfaced to an alarming degree. And people, who should know better, have stood on the sidelines and made excuses for the worst kind of defamatory language and behavior in the name of free speech. These are times, however, when abusive speech is very much like the act of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and politicians should be wary of thinking they can ride a wave of demagogic rhetoric to victory.

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FINDING A VOICE by Ann Davidow

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