Sunday, August 9, 2009

Calling a Spade a Spade - or Not

Sullivan: "The America Of Fear"

A classic from his blistering account of the 1980 Republican convention in Detroit:

"Just as Americans in general do not have the habits of deference, so the conservative in America does not have them either. Ultimately he does not defer even to the country’s institutions. If one of these institutions, such as the Supreme Court, makes decisions he detests, he will defame that institution. He is as ready as is the common man to bypass the institutions he ought to defend."

His peroration is a show-stopper of rhetoric:

"The America which Europe fears is the America of the Reaganites. The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of ‘‘better dead than red’’; the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy.

The America of fear. For it is in fear that the ungoverned and the unfree are doomed to live. And there was this America in control at Detroit. It is time that we reminded ourselves, and said aloud and more often, that it is from these people that nastiness comes. It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right.

No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within. The Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy. If the neo-conservatives cannot sniff danger, surely the rest of us can be alert."

The phrase that resonates so powerfully to me after the last few years is his reference to foreign policy: "a now ignorant interventionism." I argued with Henry about this back in the day. But the longer I live in America and keep my eyes open, the closer to his view I find myself traveling.

The AP had an item yesterday on Sarah Palin's insane accusation that health care reform is "downright evil" because it would create an imaginary "death panel" that could deny care to her infant son. In the fourth paragraph, the AP report noted the integrity of the former governor's attack. (thanks to reader K.R.)

The claim that the Democratic health care bills would encourage euthanasia has been circulating on the Internet for weeks and has been echoed by some Republican leaders. Democrats from Obama on down have dismissed it as a distortion. The nonpartisan group, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania says the claim is false.

I see. Republicans and their allied activists have made the claim; Democrats and experts have disputed the claim. The AP piece went on to quote President Obama telling the AARP that the attack isn't based on fact.

But the AP can't quite bring itself to say who's right and who's wrong. There's an objective truth here -- Palin's vile nonsense is an obvious, slanderous lie -- and the AP seems to want to nudge the reader towards that conclusion. But the AP, like most major media outlets, stops well short of telling the public four simple words: "Palin's attack isn't true."

Instead, it reports that Republicans believe the claim, and Democrats and the Annenberg Center reject it. The AP reporter, Mark Thiessen, no doubt realizes one side is lying, but doesn't say so -- because to call out a demonstrable falsehood as a demonstrable falsehood would prompt allegations of "bias."

It's understandable that reporters steer clear of the "l" word ("lie"), because it's been deemed intemperate. But there are still ways of informing the reader about reality. ABC's Jake Tapper noted yesterday that Palin's attacks "are not part of any reasonable debate on the facts of the matter."

Exactly. There's a debate, there are reasonable claims within the debate, and Palin's claims fall outside of this framework because they're not true.

The more news outlets call out politicians for bogus claims, the stronger the incentive for politicians to make fewer bogus claims.

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