Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason

Graphic by R.S. Janes / LT Saloon

Shrill, baby, shrill:
How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality?

By Johann Hari / August 21, 2009

Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarised by the comedian Bill Maher: “The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital.”

The election of Obama –- a black man with an anti-conservative message –- as a successor to George W. Bush has scrambled the core American right’s view of their country. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation forever shaped like Sarah Palin.

When this image was repudiated by a majority of Americans in a massive landslide, it simply didn’t compute. How could this have happened? How could the cry of “Drill, baby, drill” have been beaten by a supposedly big government black guy? So a streak that has always been there in the American right’s world-view –- to deny reality, and argue against a demonic phantasm of their own creation –- has swollen. Now it is all they can see.

Since Obama’s rise, the US right has been skipping frantically from one fantasy to another, like a person in the throes of a mental breakdown. It started when they claimed he was a secret Muslim, and –- at the same time – that he was a member of a black nationalist church that hated white people. Then, once these arguments were rejected and Obama won, they began to argue that he was born in Kenya and secretly smuggled into the United States as a baby, and the Hawaiian authorities conspired to fake his US birth certificate. So he is ineligible to rule and the office of President should pass to… the Republican runner-up, John McCain.

These aren’t fringe phenomena: a Research 200 poll found that a majority of Republicans and Southerners say Obama wasn’t born in the US, or aren’t sure. A steady steam of Republican congressmen have been jabbering that Obama has “questions to answer.” No amount of hard evidence –- here’s his birth certificate, here’s a picture of his mother heavily pregnant in Hawaii, here’s the announcement of his birth in the local Hawaiian paper –- can pierce this conviction.

This trend has reached its apotheosis this summer with the Republican Party now claiming en masse that Obama wants to set up “death panels” to euthanise the old and disabled. Yes: Sarah Palin really has claimed –- with a straight face –- that Barack Obama wants to kill her baby.

You have to admire the audacity of the right. Here’s what’s actually happening. The US is the only major industrialised country that does not provide regular healthcare to all its citizens. Instead, they are required to provide for themselves – and 50 million people can’t afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 US citizens die every year needlessly, because they can’t access the care they require. That’s equivalent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year. Yet the Republicans have accused the Democrats who are trying to stop all this death by extending healthcare of being “killers” –- and they have successfully managed to put them on the defensive.

The Republicans want to defend the existing system, not least because they are given massive sums of money by the private medical firms who benefit from the deadly status quo. But they can’t do so honestly: some 70 per cent of Americans say it is “immoral” to retain a medical system that doesn’t cover all citizens. So they have to invent lies to make any life-saving extension of healthcare sound depraved.

A few months ago, a recent board member for several private health corporations called Betsy McCaughey reportedly noticed a clause in the proposed healthcare legislation that would pay for old people to see a doctor and write a living will. They could stipulate when (if at all) they would like care to be withdrawn. It’s totally voluntary. Many people want it: I know I wouldn’t want to be kept alive for a few extra months if I was only going to be in agony and unable to speak.

But McCaughey started the rumour that this was a form of euthanasia, where old people would be forced to agree to death. This was then stretched to include the disabled, like Palin’s youngest child, who she claimed would have to “justify” his existence. It was flatly untrue –- but the right had their talking-point, Palin declared the non-existent proposals “downright evil”, and they were off.

It’s been amazingly successful. Now, every conversation about healthcare has to begin with a Democrat explaining at great length that, no, they are not in favour of killing the elderly –- while Republicans get away with defending a status quo that kills 18,000 people a year. The hypocrisy was startling: when Sarah Palin was Governor of Alaska, she encouraged citizens there to take out living wills. Almost all the Republicans leading the charge against “death panels” have voted for living wills in the past. But the lie has done its work: a confetti of distractions has been thrown up, and support is leaking away from the plan that would save lives.

These increasingly frenzied claims have become so detached from reality that they often seem like black comedy. The right-wing magazine US Investors’ Daily claimed that if Stephen Hawking had been British, he would have been allowed to die at birth by its “socialist” healthcare system. Hawking responded with a polite cough that he is British, and “I wouldn’t be here without the NHS”.

This tendency to simply deny inconvenient facts and invent a fantasy world isn’t new; it’s only becoming more heightened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bourbon in water. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US right simply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the scientific evidence for man-made global warming became unanswerable, they claimed – as one Republican congressman put it – that it was “the greatest hoax in human history”, and that all the world’s climatologists were “liars”. The American media then presents itself as an umpire between “the rival sides”, as if they both had evidence behind them.

It’s a shame, because there are some areas in which a conservative philosophy –- reminding us of the limits of grand human schemes, and advising caution –- could be a useful corrective. But that’s not what these so-called “conservatives” are providing: instead, they are pumping up a hysterical fantasy that serves as a thin skin covering some raw economic interests and base prejudices.

For many of the people at the top of the party, this is merely cynical manipulation. One of Bush’s former advisers, David Kuo, has said the President and Karl Rove would mock evangelicals as “nuts” as soon as they left the Oval Office. But the ordinary Republican base believe this stuff. They are being tricked into opposing their own interests through false fears and invented demons. Last week, one of the Republicans sent to disrupt a healthcare town hall started a fight and was injured – and then complained he had no health insurance. I didn’t laugh; I wanted to weep.

How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? It begins, I suspect, with religion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have “faith” – which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. You don’t have “faith” that Australia exists, or that fire burns: you have evidence. You only need “faith” to believe the untrue or unprovable. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational.

Up to now, Obama has not responded well to this onslaught of unreason. He has had a two-pronged strategy: conciliate the elite economic interests, and joke about the fanatical fringe they are stirring up. He has (shamefully) assured the pharmaceutical companies that an expanded healthcare system will not use the power of government as a purchaser to bargain down drug prices, while wryly saying in public that he “doesn’t want to kill Grandma.” Rather than challenging these hard interests and bizarre fantasies aggressively, he has tried to flatter and soothe them.

This kind of mania can’t be co-opted: it can only be overruled. Sometimes in politics you will have enemies, and they must be democratically defeated. The political system cannot be gummed up by a need to reach out to the maddest people or the greediest constituencies. There is no way to expand healthcare without angering Big Pharma and the Republicaloons. So be it. As Arianna Huffington put it, “It is as though, at the height of the civil rights movement, you thought you had to bring together Martin Luther King and George Wallace and make them agree. It’s not how change happens.”

However strange it seems, the Republican Party really is spinning off into a bizarre cult who believe Barack Obama is a baby-killer plotting to build death panels for the grannies of America. Their new slogan could be –- shrill, baby, shrill.

Source / The Independent, U.K.

Thanks to S.M. Wilhelm / The Rag Blog

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9 Responses to Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason

  1. Jonn Lilyea says:

    4% is not a “massive landslide” and I guess it’s just easier to wash out all of the ideology and call it racism. If 48% of voters didn’t vote for Obama, it’d only stand to reason he’d get opposition on the basis of ideology.

    It’s been my experience that folks who point and call “racist” most are just projecting.

    Good luck with that.

  2. Richard says:

    Next to last paragraph: Right on! Contradictions are never resolved with humor, or by ignoring them and the worse thing is to try to find the middle ground. Contradictions are resolved when one side rises up and overwhelms the other side. Rebublicans and democrats are one side…Who is the other side?
    It could be you.

  3. martiharvey says:

    If people believe there is a man in the sky that directs their life then they will believe anything. We should be teaching the art of critical thinking in our schools instead of creationism. If we did then more people would be able to discern the difference between fact and fiction.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Critical thinking, and with it , cognitive behavioral approaches to teach “the politically incorrect” cognitive skills that may reduce self destructive political behaviors, is the way to go.
    In these approaches the objective is typically to identify and monitor thoughts, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that accompany and are related to negative social-political behaviors , and to identify those which are inaccurate, or unhelpful. The aim is to replace or transcend them with those which are more realistic and useful.

  5. Bob Sam says:

    Excellent piece. My questions are: When will Democrats wake up and realize that the GOP will always stoop to the lowest possibly imaginable…and then be prepared to do battle with that level of disgrace? When will Democrats realize that the Moral High Ground is theirs to seize and stop ceding it to the most corrupt and cynical pack of ruthless and shameful hypocrites in this country’s history?

    Will that ever happen?

  6. White Rose says:

    Completely agree with the next to last paragraph. Obama needs to stop trying to charm the loonies and just push this reform through. It has already been parsed and watered down. If there is no public option, what’s the frickin’ point?

    And I wonder if any one else feels that this should be a civil rights issue. How is denying coverage to such a large section of the public not discrimination?

  7. Anonymous says:

    White Rose — while I sympathize with your intent, can’t see that lack of health coverage UNDER THE PRESENT SYSTEM necessarily has anything to do with civil rights. If the insurance company says, “we will not cover you because of your religion, or race”, etc., that would be one thing. But they don’t cover people because, mainly, people can’t pay the outrageous rates! It’s like a restaurant refusing to serve people who can’t pay, rather than turning them awa
    y because of their race.

    Now, if coverage is denied because of “pre-existing conditions”, and a person CAN pay, that may be a civil rights issue, and that would be pretty kewl!!

  8. Fed Up says:

    I have a hard time getting at what is going on. Its impossible to understand why the businesses being killed by the “health care industry” would continue to allow it to destroy them. In a global economy, do they actually believe they are going to stop the EU and Canada’s national health, and do they imagine they will have a competitive edge in a global economy where they cannot compete largely due to employer health care and massively parasitic healh insurance companies?

    Truly, the elite of the USA has gone stark raving insane.

  9. dospesentas says:

    A 9 million vote victory in a country of 300 million is a landslide? Hardly.

    More attack the messengers and Republicans bad, Democrats good. Keep ignoring the facts that exist right before your eyes.

    Legislators and Obama have repeatedly stated on the record that end of life care consumes a disproportinate amount of health resources. Read the sections in HR3200 that relate to end of life care and counseling, then tell me a mechanism to reduce this overhead isn’t enabled in the legislation. After that, read Cass Sundstein’s (currently being rammed in under cloture as ‘regulatory czar’ – i.e. the nut and bolt administrator of healthcare legislation) 2003 paper; Lives, Life-Years, and Willingness to Pay. Then come back and tell me these allegations are all b.s. I’m simply surprised that people aren’t much more suspicious by the out of control push back on this topic. If it’s a non-issue, why all the attacks? If it’s untrue, why not simply include a section in the legislation that codifies protection of and respect for of end of life care?

    Isn’t it curious this article doesn’t present ANY of these facts -or- the committee revisions regarding this issue, if there was no problem, why the behind doors legislative scrambling? I’m getting tired of being distracted by ‘death panels’ which is allowing a myriad of other problems to be ignored.

    It seems the pro reform plan is simply to attack the messenger and discredit opposition with a broad brush of off-topic nonsense. One guy shows up with a Hitler poster and magically ALL the posters, regardless of content, are invalidated. Let one stupid critical statement get out and now ALL statements are stupid. Let one guy yell and everyone is screaming and yelling. This is a good plan as it DISTRACTS from the real issues that cannot be defended. Let’s get real here, this healthcare reform is all about one thing and it’s not healthcare it’s about VOTES.

    When China stops lending and we’ve taxed the rich into poverty, who will fund our ‘dependent society’?

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