Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's Always Republican Propaganda

Americans have certainly been spooked by all of the Republican hype about government takeovers.

Let's see. The Obama Administration took over, for all intents and purposes, two of the Big Three automakers. The government owns AIG. There are plans to involve the government ever more in health care. Silly me for falling for Republican hype.

I'm always astonished by the Left's apparently sincerely and deeply-held belief that much of the criticism of their preferred policies is simply due to incredibly effective Republican propaganda, whether that be about the health care debate, the role of government in daily life, or Matt Yglesias's repeated insistence about Americans' tax aversion.

You won't hear me defending everything that every conservative says about Democratic policies. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and even Michael Steele say some stupid and disingenuous shit. But focusing on outrageous statements, particularly outrageous statements by people in the entertainment business, glosses over some real problems.

The Obama administration has stated aims of becoming involved or furthering the existing involvement of government in many areas. The merits of each of these proposals can be debated, but to dismiss this as simple hype is stupid. Furthermore, we ought to engage in a macro-level debate about the role of government. Oftentimes, if we look at each isolated proposal, then we'll miss the forest through the trees.

This really isn't a post that endeavors to engage in that debate. Just merely rebuking the either stupid or willfully ignorant statement, repeated so often that it's a cliche, that Republican propaganda is to blame.


rahowe said...

I think we are each to blame if we are easily misled, but what to make of a poll this summer, while Senator Grassley and many others were arguing against health-care reform, that found 39 percent of us want the government to keep its hands of Medicare? If not from Republican "hype," from where did this odd idea originate?

Andrew Stevens said...

A) There are no Republican hypesters who claim that Medicare isn't a government-run program. I'd like to hear one citation from Rush Limbaugh or whoever in which this has been stated.

B) Sometimes people, even a lot of people, believe stupid things for no good reason. Where did the 9/11 Truth Movement come from if not Democratic "hype"? Oh wait, there was no Democratic hype; some people are just crazy. 74% of people believe there was a conspiracy or cover-up involved in the Kennedy assassination despite the fact that the evidence against Oswald is conclusive.

rahowe said...

Belief in a cover-up in the Kennedy assassination is not innate. People believe that because they have been misled by people constantly repeating statements without basis. Likewise, 69 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks although George Bush said he had seen no evidence to link the two. The mistaken belief came from hearing Bush and his administration repeatedly include "Saddam Hussein" and "9/11" in the same sentence.

"Government takeover of health care" runs effortlessly and fraudulently off the lips and tongue of Republicans. This, not surprisingly, misleads and confuses people, some to the point that they think their government is about to take control of Medicare. To me, this misleading rhetoric is a crime against Democracy, which requires educated, informed voters--as opposed to misled voters--to thrive. "Government" is not taking over health care in any proposed bill, certainly not in the bills that have passed the Senate and the House. Yet, people are told that a "take over" is about to occur.

Andrew Stevens said...

No, no, no. The persistent belief in the Kennedy conspiracy starts from the bottom; it only spread to the elites (the media, the politicians, etc.) and got disseminated after it was already widely believed. (I assume it starts because of the assassination of Oswald, immediately leading people to conclude that he had been "shut up.") Similar things happened with the 9/11 Truth Movement and the belief that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. I'll bet a greater percentage believed Hussein was involved in 9/11 immediately after 9/11 than after months of "hearing Bush and his administration."

A great many Americans, bless them, are fairly simple people. Hussein is an Arab, bin Laden is an Arab, they're both bad guys, what's the difference?

Similarly, the town halls exposed a large undercurrent of people very worried about government interference with health care long before any Republican politicians had finished checking the wind to see what they should be saying about it.

By the by, I absolutely disagree that we need well-informed voters for democracy to thrive. Since that condition has never existed in human history, one would have to argue that there has never been a thriving democracy in order to conclude that. There have been thriving democracies, so the argument is false. Q.E.D.

rahowe said...

What an odd series of arguments.

It matters only a little the source of the Big Lie. What matters most is its constant repetition, so that it firmly plants itself in the mind.

I think most Americans took from the attack on Afghanistan and the constant coverage that we were after the culprit of the 9/11 attacks. Do you actually believe that more people thought Saddam Hussein was behind the attack at that time than a year latter after hearing Bush et al repeating an easily inferred connection? That seems like a counter-intuitive conclusion that I would need to have carefully explained before I accepted it. It seems to argue that Bush convinced some Americans that they were wrong in believing Saddam was behind the attack when he seemed actually to be encouraging the opposite belief. I would love to see numbers that support your assertion.

If not from politicians, from where did those Americans get their information on health care bills? Again, it was not innate knowledge that convinced them the bills included "death panels."

We have always had educated, informed voters in this Democracy. And we succeed because of them. They are in competition with and in alliance with the misled voters. When we have only misled voters, or even when they dominate, we can expect to suffer. I don't believe you can find an instance of a thriving Democracy comprised of only not well informed voters.

Andrew Stevens said...

My odd argument is that many people believed Hussein was behind 9/11 immediately after 9/11. I had to convince a number of people out of this position at the time, long before Iraq was on the radar screen or the Bush Administration had said a word about Iraq. There aren't any numbers, of course, since nobody polled on this issue until well into 2002, when it became relevant. By the by, while I was able to find the Washington Post poll which claimed 69% of people believed there was such a link, no other poll that I've been able to find at any time found greater than 40%. I have to assume the Post poll was oddly worded.

I don't believe you can find an instance of a thriving Democracy comprised of only not well informed voters.

People are always poorly informed, just about different things. I'm no fan of the Patriot Act, but the sheer number of absurd lies that people said about it beggared the imagination. Obviously these people are different people from the ones who believe the "big lies" about health care. 90% of people believe there was some sort of cover-up around 9/11, with no evidence whatsoever for this belief. Only 32% of people believe Oswald acted alone. I don't know how many people believe the outrageously false stories about J. Edgar Hoover's being a cross-dresser, but it's a bunch. It's just too difficult to be well-informed; even the vast majority of reasonably well-informed people pick and choose the issues they want to be informed about and believe whatever is the consensus on their side, whether true or not, about everything else. By no means am I defending liars on the grounds that everyone does it, but everybody does do it. It may be a "crime against democracy," but you'll find there aren't many non-criminals out there. E.g. when McCain was suggesting removing the tax deductions for companies which provide health insurance and including an offsetting tax credit for all individuals instead (thus removing the tax incentives which encourage employer-provided health care and discourage individually purchased health insurance), Obama continually demagogued this as "taxing health benefits for the first time in history," even calling it "the largest middle-class tax increase in history." It is impossible for me to believe that he genuinely didn't understand McCain's proposal.

rahowe said...

Have a look at the effect believing Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks had on voters or, alternatively, the willingness of Bush supporters to believe Saddam was involved. See Bush and Kerry supporters in the chart at the bottom.

There is a very important difference between disagreeing over policy and disagreeing over facts. My contention is that denying facts and even misrepresenting them is an attack on our Democracy irrespective of the party affiliation of the person who issues the lie. We can disagree over how much government involvement in health care is the right amount. We're negotiating the contents of the social contract in that case--always appropriate and necessary. "Government take over," however, is obviously false. In fact, I have not heard anyone quantify the amount of increase in government control that will result from either pending bill. Both seem to increase private participation far more than public, so that the percentage of government participation actually will decrease. So, I am at a loss to determine what increase is causing such alarm. How many would that be?

That there are few who tell the truth is no reason to stop desiring the truth.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Stevens --

You argue like an autodidact attached to the internet.

To take one trivial example, the retiring congressman from Rhode Island has always believed that Fidel Castro was in some obscure way involved in the murder of the congressman's uncle.

Presumably, he believes this on the basis of conversations with his father and his cousins. (He might also believe this because he's a drink and drug-addled ninny, but let's assume, because it's logical, that a 42 year-old in his circumstance has spent a long, long time marinating in "the family romance." Family romances are not always wrong.)

As it happens, I believe that Lee Oswald killed JFK all by himself. But even so, I always remind myself that 1) LO was a pro-Castro, wanna-be communist, 2) Cord Meyer knew more then than I know now, and 3) the past is fundamentally foreign.

Andrew Stevens said...

Anonymous, for what it's worth, if all conspiracy theories about JFK were of that type - Castro or the Soviet Union may have had some sort of role in convincing Oswald to assassinate Kennedy, then I would regard them all as pretty harmless. I don't believe that's true, but one can argue that it might be true without being egregiously ignorant. However, a great many of the theories instead assert things about government cover-ups, second shooters, or, most absurdly, that Oswald was completely innocent. I concede that there is a continuum of beliefs which is not well captured by most polling and some opinions are more defensible than others.

To the best of my knowledge, it is not commonly believed by the Kennedy family that Castro had a hand in the murder. It appears to be idiosyncratic with Patrick. Most of the Kennedys other than Patrick are not notably anti-Castro.

Andrew Stevens said...

Of course, what might have been lost is that I am not denigrating people who are ignorant or misinformed about an issue like the Kennedy assassination; on the contrary, I am defending them because we are all ignorant or misinformed about many, many issues and it behooves us to remember this when we are, like I believe rahowe was above, criticizing people for being misled about one's own pet issue.

rahowe said...

I said, "I think we are each to blame if we are easily misled," and I stand by that. We should not be gullible as I am sure your parents warned you. Or, to repeat my constant cry: Epistemology Matters!

However, my criticism is quite squarely and clearly on the people who mislead and lie, not on their victims. Andrew is defending people who were not under attack. The actions of the people I attack are indefensible.

- alan

Withywindle said...

Andrew says everything I believe, although in a slightly different philosophical language. Just for the record.

Withywindle said...

Hoover wasn't a cross-dresser? Oh, that's terrible. One less anecdote for my classes. Do we still believe he was gay?

Andrew Stevens said...

It is quite possible that Hoover was gay (no proof though), which is part of what keeps the cross-dressing story alive. The story of his being a cross-dresser is an obvious calumny invented by a person with a serious axe to grind against Hoover. It is normally told in just that way: "Hoover was a cross-dresser," but the story that the single witness actually told is really outrageous and unbelievable on its face and no serious biographer of Hoover that I am aware of lends it any credence at all.

Mr. Howe, I too believe epistemology matters and I apologize if I was putting any words into your mouth. For the record, I wholeheartedly agree that lying in the service of one's cause is indefensible, though my moral outrage at this particular offense is quite a bit less than yours. I wonder, though, how often the excoriation is selective. "Your guys commit indefensible crimes against democracy. My guys bend the truth sometimes." Maybe you're never guilty of this and you condemned Obama for lying about McCain's health care plans every bit as vigorously as you're now condemning the Republicans who are lying about Obama's. I don't know. To be honest, it doesn't even matter particularly since I also consider hypocrisy to be a fairly petty sin we're all guilty of at times. But if you do have a double standard, I would urge you to consider that perhaps the gentler standard you use for your own side might be more appropriate than the harsher standard for the other side. The first thing virtually all men will do for their principles is lie for them.

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