Monday, August 14, 2006

Right Wing Pundits and The Big Lie

While listening to conservative talk show host Jay Severin yesterday, he made an assertion that is nearly ubiquitous among right wing pundits, such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, ad nauseum.

The assertion? All liberals "hate America". That, along with the claim that all liberals hate Christianity, are persecuting Christians, and similar variations on that theme are repeated over and over, ad naueum, on conservative talk shows, in conservative books; wherever their opinions reach the general public. Now, I realize that some liberals are guilty of such distorted blanket statements as well, but such grossly exaggerated and inaccurate statements are much more common on the far right wing.

Such tactics remind me of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who perfected the art of the Big Lie. The big lie, also known as argumentum ad nauseum, is the tactic of repeating an untruth, no matter how outrageous or absurd, so often that people eventually begin to believe it.

An OSS report about Goebbels and his propaganda methods said, in part:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. - OSS report page 51

The penchant for using the Big Lie technique, along with a fondness for ad hominem attacks, makes these comments just as true about right wing pundits now as they were about Joseph Goebbels more than sixty years ago. Indeed, in the same broadcast, Severin referred to all liberal bloggers as "poopy pajama wearing losers with stubble, and that's just the women".

But of course, Severin says more about himself with such comments than those he derides. Surely, if liberals, bloggers and otherwise, are so fundamentally wrong about everything, it would seem as if there would be much more relevant comments to make about their ideas than the state of their clothing.

And now to address the two Big Lies so ubiquitous among right wing pundits: All Liberals Hate America, and All Liberals Hate Religion.

Surely, Severin, who is witty and seemingly intelligent, could not possibly believe that ALL members of any group monolithically believe any one thing, without exception. That kind of global thinking is lazy, sloppy, and just plain inaccurate. An extreme statement such as this one is only made to stir people up, to appeal to the emotions. Patriotism is a sacred cow in our society, a core value, and to tar a group with the brush of "hating America", is akin to waving a red flag at a bull.

People who vote and take an interest in politics and government, whatever their political opinions, are motivated by the desire to improve our country, even if there are fundamental differences of opinion on how to go about it. To accuse those who have different ideas on what's right for America of "hating America" is extreme and absurd. One can disagree with a person's ideas without demonizing them.

And despite the fact that the Christian Right has been growing in power and influence since the time of the Reagan presidency, and especially since Bush II took office, another big lie is the notion that Christians are being persecuted and that all liberals hate religion, Christianity in particular.

While it is true that atheism and agnosticism is more prevalent among progressives, to be NON Christian isn't synonymous with being ANTI Christian. As well in believing in freedom FROM religion, liberals also believe in freedom OF religion. Indeed, in addition to religious liberals from various non Christian faiths, there is most definitely a Christian Left as well as a Christian Right. Though not as vocal and strident as the Christian Right in recent years, the Christian Left has been traditionally involved in progressive politics all during our nation's history; in the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, labor, civil rights, and feminist movements.

I would say the biggest Big Lie being perpetrated in the last thirty years, however, was the campaign that made "Liberal" itself a dirty word, something vaguely shameful.

What does "liberal" mean, anyway. Though there are many branches and variations of liberalism, to put it simply, according to Wikipedia, liberalism is:

an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value.

Hmm, I seem to remember from my history classes that liberty is one of the cores values that America was founded on. So, the view that liberals "hate America" also betrays an appalling ignorance of history.

It's been a long time since politicians, such as Harry Truman, matter of factly referred to themselves as liberals and the general public viewed that as a positive thing. I think it's time for progressives of all stripes to start once again, referring to themselves proudly as liberals and to turn this and other Big Lies on their heads.


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