Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Suffering under Britain's socialized healthcare

In citing reasons for sagging public support for healthcare reform, not one right wing shill has noted one itsy bitsy fact: the $1.4M/DAY the healthcare denial industry is spending to defeat any kind of healthcare reform whatsoever.

At the same time the healthcare denial industry's shills and spokespeople pretend to support various denatured versions of reform.

At the same time its black ops specialists spread one vicious lie after another (according to nonpartisan sites and, using anonymous chain emails and whisper campaigns, followed up by right wing radio and TV propagandists.

The other thing the shills fail to note is our nationwide parochialism. Most of us, left and right, seem to have almost no idea that other industrial democracies exist, all with universal healthcare, all spending less than us, all with greater life expectancy.

Sure, the right wing propagandists bring forth individuals from Canada and Britain who say what you might expect.

But those countries are all democracies. And in none of them will you find the money and power vested in the status quo as America has. So if their systems (highly varied, some socialistic, some regulated capitalistic, most a mix) all suck so badly--why aren't their voters clamoring for America's fabulous system?

They must just be anti-American...

Well, I have a friend in Scotland--a high tech businessman who has traveled here fairly often. I asked him if the Brits longed for our system. Here's what he said:

"That's easy - the NHS isn't perfect but it is very, very good. The Palin stories are about as accurate as you'd expect from someone who thinks the earth is 5000 years old. I would resist in the strongest possible terms any attempt to dismantle the public health system.

I can tell you first hand that the elderly - vis my parents - get astounding treatment without the slightest hesitation. My father collapsed at our Christmas lunch - we had a paramedic on site in under five minutes from calling 999, our emergency number. An ambulance was at our door in 10 minutes and he was in a high-dependency unit within 20. He was recovering rapidly, but they kept him in over night after moving him to a lower care level ward. No forms, no charge, just fantastic service.

This concept of them choosing not to treat people on age is simply invented by the nutjob right wingers.

At the end of the scale, one of our staff has been diagnosed with bowel cancer - she was operated on within 5 days and was retained in hospital for a full 2 weeks for recover with excellent care and access to all the latest medication etc etc.

BTW you can ask my American friends living here for their views - it's identical to mine!

And I think the vast majority of the rest of the country would agree - I think you'd get at least 95% if not 98% support. As someone said 'everyone knows someone whose life was saved by the NHS.'"

Nova ScienceNow provides a textbook example of propaganda

Nova ScienceNow is the video magazine spinoff of Nova, the eminent public television science series. Nova ScienceNow recently re-aired a segment on Dr. QuiƱones, a brain surgeon who had emigrated to America illegally. The segment played up his contributions, his "American dream," the poverty of his childhood in Mexicali--and of course his illegalness.

As is true of most such anecdotal propaganda, it was left to the viewer to draw the intended conclusions, to wit:

1. One (1) of the millions upon millions of illegal immigrants became a brain surgeon. Therefore all the illegal immigrants who become strawberry pickers or hotel maids or ruthless gangbangers must be given citizenship.

2. One (1) person's heartrending/heartwarming story is more important than all those dry statistics about how immigrants depress working class Americans' wages below the poverty level, the numbers of illegals in state and federal prisons for horrible crimes, the havoc wreaked by endemic identity theft. the contribution to rich peoples' profits while the immense social costs are outsourced to ordinary taxpayer--none of that matters if this one person is a nice guy who's an asset to our country.

Right wing propaganda usually takes the form of inciting fear and anger. Left wing propaganda works more on middle class guilt, sob stories, special pleading. The biggest victims of right wing propaganda are working class folk who support right wing politicians. The biggest victims of left wing propaganda are the same. The middle class Democrats who support illegal immigration are rarely victimized by their support--since the main victims are working class folk, whether right or left wing. So for affluent lefties it's a freebie, with the social cost outsources to someone else. Guilt was never so free.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Political Propaganda 101

A friend of mine got sucked in by the "Obama's not an American citizen" scam. I showed him how it couldn't be true. Then he asked me why so much smoke if there's no fire. I tried to give him a brief answer but it evolved into the following piece:

The underlying goal of a political party is to defeat the other side and either get back in power, or to stay in power.

Power enables a party to reward its patrons. The goal of the patrons is those rewards. The goal of the party is power and its cut of the take, distributed in various ways, from lunches and travel to unbelieveably lucrative jobs—usually for lobbying—on behalf of the patrons’ businesses, acquired after a politician retires from Congress or the Executive Branch.

Many of these reward paths aren’t spelled out in a memo (which could be leaked, after all). They’re just understood.

Often you have to betray your voters in order to reward your patrons. This is best accomplished by making your side so tribal—and so antagonistic to the other side—and so fearful of what will happen if the other side wins—that your side votes your way, betraying themselves and their loved ones, because you’ve convinced them that it’s that or the deep blue sea.

And people tend to be swayed by appearances. As long as your side looks and speaks like the epitome of your-side-ness, many won’t believe that you’re robbing them blind. Likewise, you need to make the other side look and speak unlike your base.

That was why, for example, the Republicans repeatedly ran ads showing John Kerry windsurfing, showing clips from when he was a young longhaired war protestor, showing him speaking in the Senate in long, convoluted senatorial sentences, showing his African wife acting all foreign. Bush, on the other hand, concealed his Harvard MBA by talking like bubba down the block—as if he’d grown up as a cowhand on a ranch (he bought his ranch after winning the presidency), instead of being the scion of an immensely wealthy, well-connected family..

Gaining or retaining power is best achieved by a multipronged, multilayered approach: tactically, you fire up your base, persuade the middle to lean your way, and make the other side depressed and confused, depressing their vote and their advocacy for their side. Strategically, you define every potential presidential candidate as untrustworthy and belonging to the Other Tribe—the one with bad morals, disrespect for everything good and pure, and on the take from Special Interests (well, neither side has to make that one up). Layered under that, on the Republican side, is a campaign that has been going on since FDR was president to make Americans distrust and dislike government; then this is tapped whenever the Democrats have a chance of reregulating any business the Republicans’ patrons own. Conversely, the Democrats have been trying to paint the Republicans as the Party of the Rich for the same length of time—defining G.O.P. as meaning Greed Over Principles.

Come time for the actual campaign—once each party is close to having a candidate---the following steps are applied:

First you have to fire up your base. Those are the people who will win primaries for you. Psychologically these people see the world in sharp divisions and bright colors. White hats, black hats.

Each side has a core constituency that will vote your way—if they vote. You don’t need to convince this group to vote your way. You just need to get them to the polls. They’ll go if they’re mad and/or scared. So you need to enrage/terrify them.

Outside that core constituency is a group that’s inclined to vote your way but who aren’t as tribal as the hardcore constituency. They will treat what you say more critically, and if you go too far with what’s used on the core group, you run the risk of turning them off or even driving them to the other side. So to fire up the core group with the real red-meat stuff that won’t hold up to close scrutiny, you make sure the wild stuff comes from “friends,” not your party, not officially.

This is the “clean hands” approach.

In America today, it’s a snap to set up superficially independent advocacy groups, directed and financed by the same special interests that contribute lavishly to the party. Then for the less-committed, the party fronts its own peeps, speaking more reasonably—or at least sounding more reasonable in terms of tone of voice and general deportment. Then they do the denial-affirmation dance. That is, they disavow any connection to the crazies saying the crazy thing (whatever it is). But then they go on to say that, however, maybe there’s fire where there’s smoke. Maybe responsible people should look into these claims. Maybe there’s some substance to them, somehow. Not really, of course. But…

So in this way the Party keeps its hands clean while continuing to stir the pot, while not alienating its own zealots, while at the same time sowing distrust and confusion about the other part to the less-passionate-middle and those in the other party who are susceptible to these sorts of manuverings.

Remember, in the world of politics, the parties are the outward manifestation of power, but the real power is often in the shadows, because its goals are so antithetical to yours that exposure does it no good. For the Left, it’s trade unions, organizations representing hyphenated groups (Latin-Americans, African-Americans, Catholic-Americans as far as illegal immigration is concerned, etc. For the Right it's the inversion of Socialism--those who believe business should control government--mainly the bulk of the wealthiest 1/2 of 1% of the country.

But what falsehoods should you peddle?

Answer: those that give concrete expression to your base’s deepest fears and anxieties—while at the same time giving the base plausible deniability that any of these concrete expressions are related to anything that’s indefensible in polite society.

Thus you can’t oppose a candidate because he’s a she, or not white, or too smart, or not a Christian (or perhaps a Jew). But that’s no problem. If he’s a she you accuse her of being tough/combative—implicitly a ball-buster. If he isn’t white you accuse him of being foreign—of only pretending to have American values/heritage. If he’s smart you accuse him of having foreign ideas, of looking down on ordinary people (this can work even if the person comes from low-to-middle class circumstances and the opponent is filthy rich, as long as you manipulate appearances appropriately). If he’s a Christian you can accuse him of being a bad Christian, liking a controversial Christian pastor, or being Christian in a way that’s different from familiar white Christianity.

In each case you must be very, very careful to never say what you want them to think. You just link what the opponent actually is to something that sounds plausible that gets them to think what you want them to think.

For example, a majority of Republicans came to believe Saddam Hussein pretty much planned 9/11 and provided logistical support for it. Bush never said this. But every time he mentioned 9/11 or Bin Ladin he then mentioned Saddam Hussein. It was artful. Then when he was accused of claiming Saddam did 9/11, he could honestly say “I never said so.” Which is true. But he knew that what he did say would make his followers think that. So he wasn’t a liar. He was a deceiver. That’s better, right?

Of course there are a multitude of tricks I haven’t mentioned here, but which both sides use to make you think Good Things about what they want you to agree with and Bad Things about what they want you to oppose.

For example, during his election campaign Obama said we have to grant illegal immigrants some sort of amnesty because it would be logistically impossible—and unkind—to round up and deport so many millions of people. This is what’s known as a False Choice Fallacy. He never mentioned the simple fact that if we change the way we do things so they can’t make a living here, they’ll go home the same way they came—on their own hook. Whether you advocate for or against illegal immigration, you should recognize that this was a patently false and misleading argument.

There’s also sarcasm, which both sides use constantly. For example, Sean Hannity, part of the right wing noise machine, commonly refers to Obama as The Anointed One. The propagandists who give Hannity his talking points use this to make Obama’s popularity seem like a bad thing, and his supporters like dazzled dopes.

And of course the campaign goes on after the election, because there’s always the next election, and even if the president isn’t up for reelection, a good chunk of Congress is.

So even though Obama’s citizenship will never be challenged successfully in court, the birther campaign serves to delegitimize him and allows those who don’t like his race, his foreign father, or that father’s religion, to attack Obama’s race, foreignness and not-religion without having to do any of those things explicitly. Again, plausible deniability. So the Republican Noise Machine will flog this issue on the down low as long as they can, using the AIDS virus model that worked so with with the Swift Boat Campaign.

The great thing about being on the Republican side of this is that there’s always money to finance the innumerable right wing radio stations and the TV network and the push polling (fake polling designed to plant rumors) and the whisper campaigns and the astroturf organizing. Sometimes the Democrats have to scramble for funds. And though most journalists are registered Democrats, their livelihood depends on chasing scandal, so they’ll gallop off after anything that promises juicy headlines. Clinton’s peccadilloes got spread all over the mainstream media, leading to his very testy relationship with the press that was supposedly in the tank for him. Most reporters like Obama but that didn’t stop them from running after everything the Republican Noise Machine put out there.

There’s also the art of omission. You ignore something you'd said previously was crucial. Thus when it was Clinton vs. Bush I, character was why you should vote for a president, because Clinton was a womanizer and Bush I was a loyal family man. Obama is a loyal family man, while McCain cheated on his first wife flagrantly, then dumped her after she was crippled in a car accident. Plus, Obama's and his wife and children are America’s darlings. They did take a whack at Michelle, calling her an Angry Black Woman, but she blew that one into bits on the campaign trail. So in that campaign, character--at least of the family variety--no longer mattered a bit. The issue just vanished.

Normally you attack the other guy’s strengths as well as his weaknesses, if you can find a cleavage line to drive a wedge into. Thus Kerry’s war record, which was vulnerable because Kerry is such a stiff, and because so many old veterans loathed him because of his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War, which they’ve revised in their memories so they can think we were winning but were forced to lose by the Democrats. Kerry played into that unintentionally. With Clinton his home life was vulnerable mostly because of his womanizing, but also because Hillary is smart—which lots of men find threatening—and his daughter was homely (ironic, since she’s gorgeous now). So they attacked his whole family, though only the most hardcore took the bait about his daughter’s ugliness (Rush Limbaugh being the best example).

But another feature of propaganda campaigns is that you try lots of stuff and see what sticks. As long as the attempts don’t come from party officials you can always dislaim them if they don’t work.

I hope all this answers your question as to why the birther business has been pursued to diligently.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Republican gun nuts vs. Democrats' whiteguyphobia

I entered the following passage as a comment on the latest op-ed piece by liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich. In it he decried the gun nuts attending rallies outside town hall meetings on healthcare reform, then went on to talk about Republican perfidy in promoting an array of out and out lies about healthcare reform.

The New York Times editors censored this comment, refusing to run it. Feel free to let me know why you think they did that.

An honest originalist reading of the Second Amendment would guarantee all American citizens in state militias the right to carry flintlocks around (which take a minute or so to reload between each round). And in this case at least I agree with the Rich's assessment of the dangerous direction the Republican Party leadership has taken, abetted by the voices on the radio and the raging faces on Fox TV, well-funded by the Angry Billionaires' Club. Their inflammatory language fuels the paranoid fantasies of the deluded pawns we see screaming at Town Hall meetings.

That said, however, the Democratic side has helped feed these paranoid fantasies. Nobody has clean hands in this mudslinging.

1. The Democratic Party has for 40 years worked hard for the benefit of everyone but working-class whites--even subordinating them to the needs of citizens of other countries residing here illegally. This has driven down the wages of those whites--and working-class blacks and browns, for that matter--some 5% to 25%, depending on job category and region. Yet the Democratic Party tries to sweep this under the rug as it trolls frantically for the votes of every American it can hyphenate and promise special benefits to.

2. In this media age you can't tailor your message to each special interest you run after; your "special favors" message will reach the ears of those you've disfavored, usually within hours. It's not like the '50s, when you could get away with this. Remember George Allen's "macaca" blunder? The demos have plenty of their own as well.

3. The Democrats have failed--flagrantly failed--to make it clear they're against the Republican leadership, not their actually conservative rank and file. Continually branding Republicans as "racist" and other epithets enrages them, racist and non-racist alike, driving them into the eager arms of self-described conservative leaders who are actually shills for the Angry Billionaire's Club, and laughing at them behind closed doors. But the Democratic Party has done yeoman work at forcing these people into the GOP's deathgrip.

4. Affirmative action is a bone in the throat of the white working class. We're paying a heavy price for this form of reparations for the slavery practised in the 19th century. That's exactly how working-class whites see it, and every time they have to deal with indifferent-verging-on-downright-rude civil service bureaucrats "of color," it reinforces their sense of aggrievement.

5. Private sector unions have declined greatly since their heyday in the 1950s. But public sector unions are in heaven--across the nation their workers enjoy lifetime security, fat pensions, terrific healthcare plans, and a total compensation of around 43% more than their private sector counterparts. Moreover, declining public services--right down to bridge and street maintenance--are happening in part because money is being diverted into lavish pensions as public sector workers retire. It's not just Senators--this advantage extends right down to manual laborers at City Hall. And working-class Americans are starting to wake up to this fact--and to the fact that this disparity is stoutly supported by the Democratic Party.

Just how long can you ask people who are behind in their mortgages to keep sacrificing to groups of people who appear to spit on them? It forces the white working class into the sort of tribalism, the "only we are true Americans" the Republican leadership wants them to believe.

In the propaganda war the Demos keep acting as deer-in-the-headlightsey as John Kerry did. But in reality as well, the Democrats keep stiffing the working stiffs who they once worked for.

A majority of Americans may let the foxes back in the henhouse if this keeps up. Democrats can't keep pandering to every special interest without paying a price in the voting booth. And we may lose healthcare reform over these simmering issues. Which will be a dirty shame.

Healthcare reform needs 80 Senate votes?

From 2000 to 20006 the Republican Party ruled Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary. It do so as strict majoritarians.

Majoritarianism means treating the slimmest majority as a total mandate, and treating the other side as losers who were entitled to no say whatsoever in the legislative process. This is a matter of record, not of any one person's opinion. You can validate this fact easily.

The Republican Controlled Supreme Court is run this way to this day--and will be run for the next several decades, regardless of who's president, to the contrary of what Justice Roberts promised in his nomination hearings. The proof is the number of issues decided by 5-4 votes.

So when these strict majoritarians now say any healthcare reform bill should pass with 80 Senate votes "because it's so important," either they're saying that no legislation they passed in six years of Congressional control was important--quite an indictment of their priorities--or that when Republicans are in power 51 votes will suffice, but when Democrats are in power you need most Republicans' agreement. This is pure tribalism.

Tribalisim means basing your opinions on who's voicing them instead of what they are. It's the basis of the Arab saying "My brothers and I against my cousins; my cousins and I against the strangers."

Which makes sense, since the Republicans' appeals to their consitutents are generally based on tribalism, not principle.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"That's not funny"

A remarkably vulgar animated sitcom, "Family Guy," did an episode about abortion that didn't get aired, but which is legendary in some circles. The Washington Post talked about this episode in an article. The article garned several letters griping about WaPo publishing the article that discussed the episode. Here's the comment I posted about the letters:

People without a sense of humor alway hotly deny it. They'll say "Why, I read 'Family Circus' daily" along with edgier stuff like 'Peanuts.'"

But in most regards they're deeply humor-impaired, and because, like those with Asperger's Syndrome, they don't understand its wellsprings or its social functions, they almost always criticize humor they don't like...while almost always thinking the humor's target is what they're obsessed with, while the target is actually...them.

They aim for a world in which no one ever says anything anyone might take offense at under any circumstances.

For these letter writers, it's abortion. For millions of Muslims, it's Mohammed. For gun nuts, it's their Glocks and AK-47 assault rifles. For peaceniks, it's war.

So for that last group, for example, the bumper sticker "Visualize whirled peas" is offensive because they think it trivializes war, when it fact it mocks their target fixation and general looniness.

For most people, living in such a neutered world, overflowing with teary sentimentality, would be like having died and gone to Hell.

So of course the target of abortion jokes isn't abortion itself--it's the abortion nuts who endorse the murder of obstetricians who include abortion among the services they offer pregnant women.

It's the abortion nuts who believe the Bible and/or Jesus said anything against abortion (they didn't), or that a ball of two dozen cells is a human being with a soul (ignoring the fact that identical twins and chimeras aren't formed at the moment of conception, thus making the moment of conception not the moment of soul-implantation--and as far as the Bible is concerned, it could be as late as the last trimester or even the moment of birth of a viable fetus.)

It's the abortion nuts who ignore the fact that innumerable fertilized ova are not nascent human being because of genetic defects such as anencepaly, that mean nothing with the substance of a human being is possible from that ovum--ever.

It's the abortion nuts who ignore the fact that forcing a 12 year old girl raped by her own father to carry the resulting fetus to term is regarded by a majority of Americans as pure evil, despite it being routine in nations controlled by the Catholic Church.

It's the abortion nuts who ignore the fact that their obsession with fetuses' imagined rights comes at the expense of actually born children.

But most of all, it's the abortion nuts who ignore the fact that the world's population exploded from 1 billion people in 1900 to nearly 7 billion people today--vastly more people than the world can sustain without destroying the ecologies we depend on for sustenance, such that if we took our responsibilities seriously we'd support free abortions, contraception and sterilization for everyone everywhere, and impose a 2 child limit here and if possible everywhere else, until the world's population went back to a billion.

So in response to the immoral consequences of anti-abortion nuts' efforts, despite their obviously thinking that they're way more moral than the rest of us--we make jokes.

Humor lets humans bear the unbearable, so we aren't paralyzed with grief but can actually do something about the situations that confront us.

Fox News

I've been watching Fox News lately--not just the pundits' shows but the Fox News equivalent to straight news programs.

Every so often someone will say somethng that supports President Obama. Bill O'Reilly did so recently, praising Obama's actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

But 99% of the coverage could be subtitled "What Obama Did Wrong Today." And it's not just their conservative pundits saying this. Nearly every sentence uttered by the attractive young female newsreaders and their manly--in a highly mainstream sorta way--co-hosts, express shock and horror at the terrible things Obama, every Democrat on Earth, and class traitors like George Soros, are doing to our country.

They look like real news programs in the same way that Hamas news programs--which I used to watch regularly--look like regular news programs.

I have seen signs of left-wing bias in mainstream news outlets. But they rarely rise to the level of of one-sidedness achieved by Fox News.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Barney Frank Prangs a Pawn

Today Barney Frank went off on a Town Hall Meeting goon-ette who was comparing the Demos to Nazis.

I can understand Frank taking offense at being a Jew being denounced as a Nazi. Hard to resist squishing the peabrained ranter, as he did.

But. Just to be Mr. Buzzkill...the lady's a pawn, albeit a noisy one. The real question is what hand moved this pawn--and many millions of other pawns who have acquired similar beliefs--and did Frank's response do anything about the hand guiding the pawns?

I suspect not.

Moreover, though the pawn's conclusions endanger society, her sense of endangerment is quite real.

The genius of the Republican Noise Machine, the most visible arm of the Angry Billionaire's Club, is to strip Americans of many of the protections and security they once had, then persuade people like Pawn-lady that the people trying to save them are actually the ones who put them in danger.

Meanwhile the Democrats, entangled in their own extracurricular obligations, fight the Noise Machine about as effectively as John Kerry did. Maybe Obama has a brilliant game plan he's executing, but so far he seems to be replicating Kerry's deer-in-headlights response--perhaps stunned, as Kerry was, by the sheer no-holds-barred antipatriotic viciousness of the attacks. I'd hoped for a better streetfighter.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What makes conservatives tick

At President Obama's healthcare town hall meeting about healthcare in Bozeman, Montana, one of the questioners in the audience challenged the President about how he was going to pay for everything, speaking slowly and clearly in a thick Western accent, bluntly telling him he and his people were lying about where the money was going to come from, namely, out of this guy's pockets.

Most liberals haven't the foggiest about what goes on in the mind of someone like this. They dismiss him as an ignorant hick and his concerns as racist. He, in turn, bristles at the total invalidation of his existence and concerns by Lib-er-uls, confirming the Republican accusation of "class war."

I'll help.

Everyone--whatever their politics are--wants self respect. Dignity. A sense of being in control of his life. No one wants to be a helpless slave who can't even figure out what's going on, much less have a say in it. And beyond his own individual concerns, everyone wants his tribe to have what the Germans call lebensraum--a place in the sun.

From this guy's viewpoint, the Democrats promise to strip him of all of that, and hand over his rights to people who neither look nor act like him.

And unfortunately the Democrats have played into this vision. Of course it doesn't help that the Democratic president isn't white and isn't (in these people's minds) American. But even if he were a white all-American guy, it is a fact that the Democratic Party has done everything in its power to confirm the picture the GOP paints of them. Support for illegal immigrants coupled with chasing after every group that isn't white guys from small town America has confirmed the GOP stereotype.

This distrust of a Democratic president was established long before Barry Obama was even a candidate.

Friday, August 14, 2009

How to fight fair--and make the other side fight fair as well

Watching politics is like watching a no-rules cage fight. Even if you want to fight fair, the other side's tactics are likely to rile you--to want to fight fire with fire.

But. You have to decide whether you want to win debates or change people's minds. I can win debates--I'm verbally agile, and I'm not easily daunted. But so what? What good is it to win a debate if the other side goes away seething? If they do, they'll only rationalize away what just happened, and tomorrow they'll vote the way you don't want them to, and they'll help persuade others to vote that way as well.

On the other hand, if you get in the ring with bare hands against someone with a baseball bat, you won't be happy with that outcome either.

The Way is to keep the other side from getting away with playing dirty--without playing dirty yourself. Then you have a chance to change minds, to at least get them to recognize your side as having some kind of validity.

As it stands, much of what is said between Left and Right comes across as an attempt to invalidate the worth and meaning of the other side. Each side constantly uses language and makes accusations that the other side finds deeply offensive, one-sided, and unfair.

You have to validate the other side's world up front. Otherwise you might as well just talk to yourself and those who already agree with you. That doesn't mean you have to agree with their world. But if you can satisfy the other side that you understand where they're coming from; understand the fears and desires that generate their politics--then there's a chance that they'll listen to you.

It's not easy to validate someone you disagree with deeply. Frankly, most people just can't do it. They feel like they're being a traitor to their own side if they do so. But I put it to you that you're being a traitor to your own side if you don't. After all, we are just one nation. All those blue state-red state maps are misleading--you'll find that each side has substantial minorities, even in each other's bastion. I live in one of the bluest parts of one of the bluest states in America--yet I'm acquainted with hundreds of Republicans living here.

You may have noticed that I haven't talked about this from a "lets whup those Republicans" or "let's whup those Democrats."

That's because I want both sides to fight fair. I believe the Republicans play dirtier than the Democrats, but my Republican spouse is equally convinced that the Democrats play dirtier than the Republicans. What any rational observer should agree with, though, is that both sides fight dirty, which the heinousness of it is subject to disagreement.

Here I'm going to list words and phrases used by one side to defeat the other side. This should be equally useful to Democrats and Republicans. You may learn how the other side reacts when you use certain loaded terms you're fond of--and should give up in "interfaith" discussions at least. And you may learn how to defend yourself and your side against the loaded terms they're fond of.

Trick term What it really means, and how to combat it

anti-immigrant --What the Left calls anyone who opposes illegal immigration or
chain migration, or who wants the anchor baby loophole eliminated,
or who favors any limits on legal immigration, such as favoring those
with skills we need and those fluent in English.
This is conflation. You discredit your opponent's position by lumping it in
with something that's less popular.

But there's an even subtler piece of trickery here. They never say you're
"anti-immigration," since that invokes principle. Instead they personalize
it by stating that you're "anti-immigrant." The implication: you hate these
people. Probably because they aren't "white." Whereas if you're "anti-
immigration" that could lead to discussing how CEOs exploit illegal
immigrants to drive down wages and bust unions. It's hard for a leftist to
argue with that, whereas it's easy to focus on those poor, needy Mexicans
who are just trying to feed their families, yada yada.

So when you're discussing/arguing immigration, don't let them pull this
trick. Challenge them on it before letting them go on. You could do so by
saying "I never said I was anti-immigrant. So why are you putting words
in my mouth?" Make them explain how they jumped to this conclusion
instead of trying to defend yourself. They are fighting dirty, and deserve
to called on that.

racist --What the Left calls anyone who opposes unlimited immigration,
illegal immigration, too much immigration by those with neither training,
education, English language skills, or money, use of languages other than
English for official government business (including on ballots), elimination
of race-based quotas and preferences, affection for traditional American
culture, any and all resistance to replacing American culture by others
within America, and any discussion of overpopulation.

This is usually effective, so it's usually used. People get so unhinged by
being accused of racism that they immediately forget the actual topic of
the argument and allow the Leftist to switch the topic to whether you're
racist. You must resist this and say "'Why are you trying to change the
subject? Can't you defend your position?"

You can legitimately raise the issue of someone's character if their
argument is some version of "trust me." If it's not--if it's based on reason
and externally verifiable facts--then it's irrelevant. Say you are a racist.
And you claim "Most illegal immigrants are Mexicans." Does that prove
that most illegal immigrants aren't Mexican? It does mean that I can't
take your word for it. But if you follow up by citing various polls and
surveys that enjoy widespread legitimacy among knowledgeable
observers, then the test of your argument isn't who you are but whether
your sources are solid.

So if you want to be nicer, you can say "You have a right to question my
character if my argument depends on my character. You don't if my
argument depends on sources and logic that anyone can verify. And I
haven't asked you to trust me. So you don't have a right to attack my
character as a way to discredit my argument. Have you conceded that my
side is right about [whatever you were discussing], and now want to
change the subject to my character? Or to your assumption that you are
morally superior to me?

The Left abandoned overpopulation as an issue when most overpopulation
started coming from non-Anglo/European groups. So now when you bring
it up as a desperately important issue, you're likely to be called a racist for
doing so. You can use the approaches I just described, but in addition you
can point out that the most suffering caused by overpopulation is
experienced by non-Anglo/European groups. So avoiding the topic can
be attacked at racist--of Volvo Liberals, enjoying their advanced nation
comforts, inadvertently making things worse.

nativist --the Left uses this term to describe anyone who dares to like Anglo-
American culture, and who objects to its wholesale replacement across
swathes of the Southwest by Mexican culture.

Back in the 19th century, the original nativists objected to the new waves
of non-Anglo Protestant immigration coming from southern Europe,
Ireland, and, in the West, from China. The objections included physical
attacks on members of these groups.

Today's traditional American culture includes elements adopted from all
these waves of immigration. Is pizza really foreign food any more? Is St.
Patrick's Day a foreign festival? America may well be the world's most
genuinely multicultural country today.

So what's wrong with adding a few honest, hardworking Mexicans to the
mix, the Left says. Some go on to exult in whites probably becoming a
minority in a few decades, and how wonderful that will be, and how evil
whites are (whites who aren't them at least), and thus deserve to die out.
I've seen this first-hand.

People who oppose anything not of their own traditional culture are
nativists, & you can find people like that everywhere, though more in
ethnically pure provincial enclaves than in urban areas. I suppose the
ultimate nativists are the Taliban and Al Queda.

It's one thing to call the Taliban nativists--it's another to call those who
object to ethnic cleansing nativists. And what's going on in areas of the
Southwest are just that, with the main victims being lower-class blacks
and whites.

So if someone calls you a nativist as a way to refute your arguments,
the main argument is not to let them change the subject. Your motives
are a different topic. If they want to change the topic to both side's
motives, well, that could be an interesting conversation. I've long
wondered whether the most dedicated leftists had tyrannical parents,
and it would be interesting to explore that. And also why people who are
so quick to call the other side names like racist, nativist etc., practically
worship an organization whose name translated into English means "The

Socialist --what the Right call any involvement of government in business.
Actually it means ownership of business by government. What I want to
know is what do you call ownership of government by business? Because
that seems to be what the far Right stands for.

more later

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why Americans distrust government

Americans distrust government because of King George.

I got this off some show on NPR. America was founded on distrust of government, courtesy of a crazy king out of touch with his people in America.

Our own first government was essentially a confederation--the least amount of government possible. Turned out it was less than possible, however. So we reluctantly settled on the current setup. But that strain of distrusting government is in our DNA--especially in the South, thanks to the Civil War--and that's extra government-distrusting DNA for Southerners, with the vast majority Republican, and the dominant force in today's Republican Party.

Plus, when our Republic was founded the average American was a farmer with little need of government, apart from fighting foreign wars.

Um, that's changed somewhat. But when you hear protestors at Town Hall meetings expressing their distrust of government, they've got historical reasons for their distrust.

The problem today is that government always needs to be strong enough to protect individual citizens from being oppressed, but no stronger, lest it become the oppressor, as is true in many third world countries.

That said, if the gangbangers invading your neighborhood are toting assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests, the police won't have a chance with service revolvers and blue shirts. If the entity taking advantage of you is a bank or a corporation polluting your groundwater...or a local city with a yellow light trap (intersection with a camera and yellow lights timed to produce lawbreakers) need more government to protect you than a rural 18th century farmer needed. Not just better-armed, but more sophisticated as well.

Right wing pundits keep evoking the independent farmer of two centuries ago. Such farmers wanted nothing more than for King George to get off their backs. It's a powerful message for Americans. But today the true nature of this powerful message is to get you to voluntarily renounce all forms of protection against everyone who seeks to rob you, whether by "six gun" or "fountain pen."

Conservatives need to acknowledge the fact that they simply need more government than we used to. Liberals need to acknowledge that this desire for self-sufficiency and independence has honorable roots, even if it isn't as possible now.

Conservatives, liberals...and scuba diving

Most comparisons between liberals and conservatives are aimed at proving that one or the other is in the wrong on all things always.

I disagree. Instead let me offer up...scuba diving as a way to understand the difference.

I'm a scuba diver. If you're not, and you're a liberal, your reaction is likely to be "Wow--I'd like to try that sometime. Sounds exciting." If you're a conservative, your reaction is likely to be "I like watching undersea stuff on the Discovery Channel, but that sounds really dangerous. Aren't you worried about sharks?"

Neither of those reactions is wrong. Scuba diving is a lot more dangerous than walking through a garden. And while it is exciting to try, people prone to panic shouldn't do it. Nor should those with certain medical conditions.

So I tell people good scuba divers are a blend of liberal and conservative, actually. Divers have to be both adventurous and methodical. Those who are adventurous without being methodical soon die, to put it simply. OTOH, those who are methodical without being adventurous just stay home and watch the Discovery Channel.

And while you're diving, you have to constantly monitor your nitrogen absorption, amount of air remaining, ascent rate, condition of your ears and other organs, water temperature, currents, surge, where your dive buddy is and how he/she is doing, possible dangerous critters/conditions nearby, and more. Good divers deal with all this through thorough training, so we can also enjoy the dive--the purpose of all that preparation and work.

So while diving might seem to be a liberal activity--the adventurer/explorer thing--you won't survive unless you dive like a conservative--the methodical/careful/detail-oriented thing.

And not only are good divers a blend, so is a good electorate, and for similar reasons.

With one caution: as someone said, when you're on thin ice, the prudent thing to do is run like hell!

Thus I think Obama actually did the prudent, conservative thing with the huge trillion-dollar bailout; as did the Fed.

After the stock market crash of 1929, the Hoover administration did what seemed to them to be the prudent, conservative thing, prioritizing keeping down inflation and debt. But it turned out that while those are the prudent things to do in normal times--and I agree that they are--they aren't, and weren't, the prudent things to do after a crash.

This runs counter to a conservative's intuition, so I sympathize with conservatives' extremely suspicious reaction to what the Obama administration is doing. But our instincts were honed in simpler circumstances, and they sometimes mislead us.

So when you're talking with conservative friends and relatives, agree with them that in normal times we need to balance the budget and keep down inflation. That way you establish a point of common agreement. Then go and build as much common agreement as you can before you get to the things you disagree about.

I'd go so far as to say that conservative (not Conservative, but actually conservative) principles should always be considered in politics.

And then, when you're about to dive into controversy, see if you can get them to agree with the thin ice analogy--that sometimes the conservative thing to do is to act quickly, as when the house is on fire, or there's an earthquake. And this was a financial earthquake.

Lastly, for conservatives reading this--most of what I said applies in the other direction when you're talking to liberal friends and relatives. It is liberal--if not Liberal--t0 take the other side's points seriously. We are talking about a major revision to our healthcare system. Personally I think we need to do it, since the current system isn't sustainable economically. But that's no excuse to be blithe about it.

Neither side should resort to namecalling, even though this is something we all feel very strongly about--because this is something we all feel very strongly about. And the best way to do that in either direction is to start by seeking common ground. A good start might be to denounce undemocratic actions by both sides.

No government works exactly like anyone would like it to. But imperfect as it is, it beats no government. If you don't think so, move to Somalia for a month.

Urge your conservative relatives to keep watching Fox News

One commentor to one of my posts said:

>>I hope you don't mind if I use some things you parents are Republicans but open to Democratic ideas. They just need to stop watching Fox News. <<

But actually you should encourage them to keep watching Fox News--but then to go to and for a reality check.

Offer to watch a show they watch onc day and record it. Then do the factchecking yourself as well.

Make your central point not that Fox News isn't liberal...duh. Make it that Fox News isn't conservative either.

After all, it's not conservative to lie. It's not conservative to shill for special interests--especially when those special interests' interests directly oppose the interests of your relatives. And it's not conservative to be divisive--to constantly seek to make half the country hate the other get close to incitement to riot.

It's conservative to be traditional, to question change, to value decorum and law and order, to be wary about new things. That's not bad. We need people in society to do that so we don't go chasing off after every novelty. Just as we need liberals to keep exploring the new things and report back on what seems to work.

Don't ask your relatives to become liberal. Ask them to become conservative...that is, to be true to conservative principles. When right wing loons disrupt town hall meetings and shout down the other side--how is that conservative? Don't let your relatives defend this with claims about Democratic healthcare reform proposals--they may be right about that, they may be not, but it's a different topic.

A true conservative won't "take it to the streets" unless all forms of redress within the system have been denied him. The voices on the radio say this is exactly the case, but they lie of course. Hoots and catcalls and shouting downing--this must make your conservative relatives shudder. As well they should, because it goes against their principles.

This is a wedge you can use to show how their beloved party has been taken over by the loons.

Look at the public works and the progressive taxation under Eisenhower. Ask what happened to the party of Eisenhower.

Finally, point out how in previous campaigns the Republican Party kept pointing out how personal character was a good guide to deciding who to vote for. They did this especially when Bill Clinton was running and during his presidency, due to his notorious zipper problem.

Yet they're strangely fallen silent about personal virtue today. Possibly because so many prominent Republicans who bragged so loudly about their own virtue got caught with their own pants down--literally. And possibly because the current president's personal life is exactly what conservatives say should be the personal life of a public official.

Obama is undeniably a family man. He loves his wife and children and they love him. He has never strayed--not a hint of scandal in his family life. Nor has he been divorced and remarried, like, for example, Newt Gingrich and John McCain--and so many other prominent GOP officials.

If personal virtue is a guide to public trust when the Democratic president is a bit of a stray cat at home, then personal virtue should be a guide to public trust when the Democratic president is exactly the kind of family man conservatives admire.

See the pattern? Honor your relatives' conservative principles. Praise them for being personally trustworthy. Admit that society needs them, and point to the times in your life that their solidity was a boon to you. Then make them apply those conservative principles to politics, instead of the tribal principles Fox News encourages (i.e., anything my people do is OK and justifiable, no matter how heinous, while anything the other side does isn't OK even when it is OK).

Now go out and talk to Uncle Jack! He'll thank you someday.

BTW the whole point of this blog is to help people talk with zealots--both right and left.

healthcare reform and small businesses

One thing this mega-recession has proven conclusively is the irrationality of \"the market.\" Same here. Most small businesses will benefit from the healthcare reform currently in the works, yet I'd wager most small business owners think destruction awaits them.

They're wrong, but don't believe me--or anyone else with an axe to grind. If you get most of your information and talking points from partisan media, you're part of the problem. I don't care whether you're a Democrat like me or a Republican like my spouse.

And it's so easy to factcheck the claims made by both sides. Start with and The former has established itself as a well-funded, scrupulously nonpartisan source of truth about politicians' claims, and Politifact won a Pulitzer this year, and is just as nonpartisan. It has the added benefit of gauging not just truth or falsehood, but everything in between.

Politifact has revealed many an untruth or half-truth on the Demos' side, from Obama on down. But it's the Republican side's claims about healthcare reform that so often fall in the whopper \"pants on fire\" category.

It's like comparing an airport pickpocket with Al Capone, like comparing someone who's sliming you vs. someone who's coming at you with a chainsaw.

So even though there are no pure angels in this debate, overall, small businesses are better off siding with the Demos--and putting in their constructive two cents' worth on what they need from healthcare reform instead of blindly opposing everything.

As for the Republican was once a conservative organization, in the actual dictionary meaning of the word \"conservative.\" It was the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now both would be drummed out of the party. It has ethnically cleansed itself of centrists. The Demos are, speaking exactly, the distinct lesser of two evils.

One last point: did anyone notice there are other industrialized democracies on this planet--every single one of which has a more universal, more cost-effective healthcare system than us?

If we did nothing else but adopt any one of these countries' proven systems we'd probably do better than anything either of our parties has cooked up.

Take the Netherlands' system. It's based on heavily regulated private health insurance. Their citizens pay half what we pay for healthcare, even though their poorest are subsidized. Their population lives longer and healthier. And every single citizen of their country has their own private physician.

By the way, have you noticed that not one of these other democracies' electorates have dumped their system in favor of ours? Vast majorities of voters in all these countries overwhelmingly prefer their systems to ours. Some are socialized, some just regulated. Yet all beat ours. Every single one.

The Republican ads would have you believe these folks are praying for our system.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Healthcare reform

My fellow Democrats: We're in for the fight of our lives. I know more about what we're up against than most Democrats, because I'm married to a staunch Republican, attend a church that's 90+% Republican, and have many friends among them. I'm also a sociologist by training and a debater by practice.

Based on all this, here's some heartfelt advice:

1. Don't call them racists.

It's a Rovian trap to do so--one set by the Republican leadership and their healthcare denial industry paymasters. They never, ever say \"We hate Obama because he's black,\" even if everything they do would make it reasonable to think so.

But when you call them racists, you've just changed the topic from healthcare reform to a territory they can defend. And while you're trying to prove they're racists, the RNC will be rubbing its hands, as the topic of healthcare is forgotten.

2. Don't let them call Obama and the Democratic Party and you socialists.

And they will. Count on it. I usually say: \"Socialism means ownership of business by government. Democrats don't want to own it. We just want to regulate it. We tried business without regulation twice in the last century. It got us the Great Depression and now the worst recession since that. But help me out. Republicans seem to want ownership of government by business. What do you call that?\"

And as Krugman points out, they don't want \"socialized healthcare\" but they're often on Medicare.

The other advanced countries--all democracies--have everything ranging from heavily regulated private systems to mostly socialized ones. All of them are far cheaper than our system; all of them have better health outcomes than our system. And not one of those countries' electorates have ever shown the slightest interest in adopting our system.

Guess why? They don't want to die while some for-profit insurance company denies your request for a new kidney, hoping that if they slow-foot your claim you will in fact die before they're forced to honor it.

And by the way...cops and firemen are \"socialized safety.\"

3. They'll say most Americans are happy with their current healthcare.

I say wait 'till you or a loved one gets really sick. After all, if you ran a health insurance company, and your only goal was profit, what would you do when a customer got really, really sick?

You'd get rid of him, using your army of bureaucrats whose main job is to find excuses for recission--that's cutting off someone's insurance by saying you didn't dot an \"i\" somewhere on your application.

That's why I call these companies the \"Healthcare denial industry.\" Very few people who've actually had catastrophic illness are happy with their healthcare insurance. And even those who say they're happy may not have noticed how their healthcare premiums have doubled in the last few years, because it's why you didn't get a raise--it's often hidden in your overall compensation.

4. They'll say they don't want the government telling them when to die, and as Krugman points out, even Republican congressmen are saying this.

People this far gone can rarely be reached, but I just say \"The people you think are on your side are actually vampires sucking your blood; the people you think are out to destroy you and America are actually trying to save you--and you're throwing away the life vest they've thrown you because the predators pretending to be your friends told you it's a bomb.\"

Bottom line: the Republican healthcare plan is the alternative to the Democrats' attempt at healthcare reform. What's that plan, you say? Easy. It's the healthcare reform plan Congress passed during the 12 years the Republican Party controlled Congress and the six years it controlled all three branches of government:


That's right, folks. That's their healthcare reform package. Nothing. Excuse me if I don't include their pharmaceutical industry giveaway that masqueraded as Medicare drug assistance. Other than that phony plan that ordered government agencies to pay whatever price the drug companies chose to charge...nothing.

The healthcare denial industry has grown to swallow up 1/6 of the entire American economy, gutting our competitiveness on the world market, through keeping things exactly as they are. Without healthcare reform the current system will take up 1/3 of the entire economy in a few years.

It's unsustainable. You think Medicare and Social Security are headed for trouble? That's nothing compared to this.

Most of all, the Republicans want their rank and file to think we Democrats are their enemy; that we want to turn America into some alien place they won't recognize.

And they want Democrats to treat Republican rank and file as their enemy, so we'll never realize we both have the same enemy: the bloodsucking billionaires who pull the strings in the shadows. They're practising divide and conquer. And they're very, very good at it.

So remember who the real enemy is.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

more on birthers

Have you ever crafted a long, detailed response to a comment thread for a column in a major newspaper, only to find the comments were closed just before you hit the Send button?

That just happened to me. It was a Washington Post column by Eugene Robinson titled
"The Berserk Birthers" from Tuesday, August 4, 2009. If you look at the most recent page of comments before they closed it, you'll recognize the names I refer to here. But they're interchangeable, really, because there are only a handful of approaches the birthers use, and I think I've tackled them all here:

I assume that williepet1, ekim53, JustTruthPIs, workingclassslave, FactandTruth—and all their ilk—are patriotic Americans who want the best for our nation and sincerely believe what they're saying here.

So why do they believe this stuff? I'm still puzzling over this. Perhaps it's a need for "inside knowledge." Throughout human history otherwise intelligent people have fallen for some charlatan promising secret knowledge hidden from the rest of us. But I can't read my buddy's mind, so really I'm only speculating.

My spouse is a diehard Republican but doesn’t believe this stuff, so I can't ask her, and at the church we attend—which is probably 90% Republican—I get the impression that only a handful are birthers. But these are urban Republicans living in a college town in coastal California, mostly with advanced degrees. So they're not your typical redneck right winger.

What I do know is that the Republican Party leadership is pushing this (under the table of course, to keep their hands clean), and their most partisan adherents are running with it.

I wish they could trust, a scrupulously nonpartisan Annenberg Foundation website. No partisan Democrat would think FactCheck leans left. For example, they detailed any number of "factual errors" and spin in Obama's claims about his healthcare proposals. Anyone who checks their back issues will see them tear into everyone from both parties' leadership down to Congressmens' campaigns on both sides--when the campaigns say things that just aren't so.

For Obama's birth, actually flew staffers to Hawaii to inspect the original documents and supporting materials. Anyone who wants to can check all this out on their site. They've also detailed how the birthers' claims mutate constantly as fact-checking journalists research and debunk one claim after another. They're like the AIDS virus, which also mutates constantly to avoid our immune system's defenses.

Some details:

williepete1 trots out the "he's hiding it" ploy. As if the GOP's opposition researchers wouldn't have attacked Obama's bona fides in the election campaign if there were any truth to it. Yet willipete1 believes he's smarter than all the PhDs and private eyes of the Republican National Committee, amply financed by the Angry Billionaire's Club.

Or maybe williepete1 thinks the RNC and the DNC are in cahoots, guided by the Masons, or the Rothschilds Bank, or the alien entities in the Feds' basement (cue the Twilight Zone music)?

Ekim53 uses the "even if he's legit he's an unpredictable, dangerous socialist." The long-term Republican Party strategy has been to define every single real or potential Democratic presidential candidate as exactly these things, well in advance of the formal election campaign, regardless of who he or she really is.

For example, George McGovern was a war hero. He piloted B24 bombers over Germany for dozens of missions in WWII, while Ronald Regan acted in Hollywood. Yet you'd never know it from the campaigns. Likewise Kerry was a decorated war veteran, while Bush II was a high-class draft dodger. Yet they made McGovern and Kerry into mentally unstable Com-yew-nist America-haters. And the draft dodgers into war-heroes.

Socialists want government to own business. Democrats just want to regulate them—to avoid massive recessions. Republicans want business to own government. What's the name for that?

The fruit of the RNC multigenerational investment in Democrat candidate character assassination is folks like williepete1, who believes the people trying to save him are out to get him, while the people he's defending really are. Apart from the sheer evil of the RNC, you've got to hand it to them—like John Dillenger, they're very good at their work.

JustTruthPIs makes the same claims as williepete1, only with more words. He also had to believe that he's smarter than the entire staff of the Republican National Committee, or that the committee is part of some monstrous conspiracy—possibly to fatten Americans up for aliens' dining pleasure…

Ditto workingclassslave, only snarkier.

Lastly, to FactAndTruth: There is no way anyone can abrogate a natural-born American citizen's citizenship if he's under 18. Not a stepfather. Not another country. No one. This isn't rocket science law—it's basic stuff. Why don't you get it?

Honestly, you need to seek qualified help. Do you have a pastor you can talk to? A sane spouse? As it stands you're embarrassing yourself, and every response just digs the hole you're in deeper.

If you want to get to China, book a flight.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Birthers Shmirthers

It's called Situational Narcissism when someone--usually a CEO or a celebrity--surrounds himself with toadies, and eventually comes to believe he's infallible.

I think political zealots get into a similar state because today you can arrange to get all your news from TV, radio, network and book sources that pander to your biases, be they left wing or right wing.

Once inside the Zealot Zone they egg each other on, spinning more and more outre theories in a race to the ideological bottom (wherein dwell the Birthers).

It really started when Reagan killed the FCC Fairness Doctrine, enabling the spread of right wing radio, funded by the Angry Billionaire's Club.

And though Internet advocates thought it would enhance diversity of information, the exact opposite has happened. It's possible to surround yourself only with sources that agree with you, and demographic movements have also trended toward purer and purer Red and Blue counties across the country.

I've seen this at work. I attended a conservative political forum recently, and afterward people chatted with each other. It was as if they were vying to see how far out their conspiracy theories could be spun.

It was like back fence gossip at its most poisonous.

But it's wrong to focus on the Birthers. They're just the foot soldiers in a long-term strategy by the Angry Billionaire's Club, aimed at delegitimizing not just Obama but all future potential Democratic presidential candidates, and the party's leadership as well.

See, you get to power in America by one of two routes: forge a centrist majority, as Obama did, or build a partisan crusade that demonizes the other side, as Bush 43 did under Carl Rove's tutelage.

The Republicans have evidently chosen the latter as their 2010/2012 strategy.

Do this and you wind up with roughly half the country despising you. But this route's goal is only 50.01% of the vote, and what 49.9% of the country thinks of you doesn't matter in the slightest.

For 2010 the Republicans left in Congress need to keep their seats, which are nearly all in bright Red areas. So for that they've chosen a howling crusade with pitchforks and torches, laying siege to Obama the America-hating foreign mole Antichrist up in the castle.

They do this by attacking the person's strongest points, not his weakest. Obama is a gifted speaker--so you make that seem strange. Like he's a Svengali, and his supporters hypnotized sheeple. He's a better and more devoted family man than a majority of Republican Congressmen. There isn't the faintest whiff of scandal to exploit there, but they can make him seem like a foreign family man with a foreign family, trying to turn America into a foreign country--at least to the party faithful. He tends to give substantive answers, so they paint him as a boring double-dome. They don't attack his nonexistent military record because it's not a strong point, just as they attacked Kerry's because it was.

None of this makes sense if your goal is centrist consensus. But it's perfectly rational if you've rationally chosen a rabidly partisan tack.

Sure, only 28% believe he's a furriner. But many more than that just aren't sure. They're uneasy about him. That's the idea. Make the faithful rabid and the moderates fearful and unsure enough to opt for the devil they know.

You can see the same approach playing out with healthcare reform.