Color me stupid, and maybe (probably, I hope) what I am seeing is more like a marriage of convenience than a conspiracy, but Ross Douthet’s column today in the NYTimes pushed me further toward thinking that Republicans/conservatives really are manufacturing their own reality. Douthet’s column is about how similar this time is to 1994, when the Republicans overturned a Democratic majority in Congress. Then, of course, the Democrats had controlled the Congress for decades, now its been three years, and of those three years the Republicans have done their best to be obstructionist and set records in the Senate for these phantom filibusters (make ‘em actually do it, and pee their pants). Douthet includes lines like “The health care push has opened up arguments about abortion, euthanasia and illegal immigration that the Democrats would rather avoid.” Except that those arguments are flat out Republican lies, spread by the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. Douthet doesn’t mention that. Yes, health care bills in Congress have end of life counseling, something Senior citizens want and until recently, so did Republicans. And the only way health care bill in Congress have anything to do with abortion or illegal Aliens is in describing how they will not be covered.
But the fact that Ross Douthet is talking about this that way in the New York Times made me realize that this is the way things are, at least during Democratic Presidencies. A Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin starts a lie, like abortion, euthanasia or illegal immigration in the “health care bill” (as if there was only one). These lies are aimed at their most gullible followers, the religious right or rural conservatives. These followers go to town hall meetings or protest rallies, and some get their faces on TV for ten seconds. Others want that, and the ranks swell (not by really that much, but enough). Polls are affected negatively for the Democratic President, not by a surprising amount, but in Obama’s case the depth of the support for his candidacy was imagined by the press, so any slide is seen as a major revolt. And so the “legitimate” and “reasonable” conservatives pundits step in and say that a majority of the country now opposes the President’s plan, whatever it is. They would say that while the bill doesn’t have euthanasia in it, the end of life counseling seems like you are pushing grandma towards the light, and anyway there are other signs there is Medicare rationing in “the bill”. I have heard David Brooks accuse the President of telling “whoppers” (lies), without spending one minute discussing the President’s accusers.
So there is a dynamic, where the fringe talk radio (and TV) wackos whip up an uneducated base, who complain loudly and publicly, and in turn the “thoughtful” conservatives identify an important movement in America, and describe it as a majority. The problem is this is having a real impact on policy. The public option is now in real trouble, which of course is what the insurance companies want. In fact, meaningful health care insurance/reform is in real trouble. Of course, some liberals aren’t helping either. Obama gives a tough speech, and Bill Maher acts like he wants Obama to physically beat conservatives. STOP TRYING TO HELP, Mr. Maher. The last thing Obama wants to do is hand the Republicans the gift of becoming “the angry negro”. Or did you miss what happened to Van Jones, and more importantly, why?