The There Not There

That shooting at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs has caused the Republicans no end of troubles – because they’ve been vilifying Planned Parenthood all year long, those child murderers who buy and sell the body parts of the children they’ve murdered and all that. Planned Parenthood doesn’t really do that, and they know it, but now an unhinged fellow took them seriously and went and shot up a clinic, killing three people there and wounding nine more, the sort of thing that’s been going on for years. They’re not responsible for the acts of one lone madman, of course, but they had provided the arguments of outrage that seem to have been rattling around in that guy’s head.

One thing leads to another. Talk enough about states’ rights and the need to recognize the noble heritage the Confederate flag represents, and talk about all the lazy bums on welfare expecting to be taken care of by the rest of us, who seem to be black and have no sense of personal responsibility and no “normal” family values, and you get a white kid in Charleston killing a whole lot of black folks at a church in Charleston. Talk a lot about government overreach and what Janet Reno ordered at Waco long ago and you get Timothy McVeigh. Talk about how everyone should be armed, because that’s their right, and some of the righteous will go out and shoot the unrighteous dead on the spot. It happens, and it’s bad for the brand. People put two and two together. Angry conservatives are dangerous, they’re the Americans packing heat at all times, and far too many of them are tired of arguing their positions on this and that. They’d just as soon shoot you and be done with it.

Ted Cruz has an answer to that – “The overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats. The media doesn’t report that.”

And Kevin Drum has an answer to that answer:

Huh. Could be, I suppose. Most convicted felons are pretty poor, and poor people tend not to vote for Republicans. Why would they? Of course, they tend not to vote for Democrats, either. They just don’t vote.

And there seems to be some confusion here:

Presumably, Cruz got his data from this study which estimates that 73 percent of “hypothetical felon voters” would vote for Democrats. However, a more recent study that looks at how many actual felons register as Democrats puts the number at 62 percent for New York, 52 percent for New Mexico, and 55 percent for North Carolina. That’s still not bad, Democrats! You have the felon vote cornered. Except for one thing: only about a third of them registered at all, only about a fifth have active registration records, and only about 10 percent or so actually voted for president recently. Liberals may generally be in favor of allowing released felons to vote, but it sure isn’t because they think it will help them at the polls. Working for felon voting rights is about the most inefficient and futile way imaginable of getting out the vote.

Drum sees the trick here:

Just find some demographic group that tends to vote for Party X, and then find some bad thing also associated with that group. In this case, poor people tend to vote for Democrats, and felons tend to be poor. Bingo. Most felons are Democrats.

Or this: rich people tend to vote for Republicans, and income-tax cheats tend to be rich – so most income-tax cheats are Republicans.

Or this: Middle-aged men tend to vote for Republicans, and embezzlers tend to be middle-aged men – so most embezzlers are Republicans.

We could do this all day long, but what’s the point?

The point is clear. Cruz is saying that in spite of a few lost souls, for which he is not responsible, conservatives are the good guys, and he had more:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Sunday dismissed the idea that anti-abortion rhetoric influenced the shooter who opened fire in a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic on Friday, referencing reports that the suspected shooter is a “transgendered leftist activist.”

Yes, he said that:

During a press conference in Iowa, Cruz slammed “vicious rhetoric on the left blaming those who are pro-life” for the shooting, the Texas Tribune reported.

“The media promptly wants to blame him on the pro-life movement when at this point there’s very little evidence to indicate that,” Cruz said, according to the Texas Tribune.

A reporter told Cruz that reports indicate that the suspected shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, mentioned “baby parts” to law enforcement after he was arrested.

“It’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist,” Cruz hit back, referencing a voter registration form that allegedly lists him as a woman. “If that’s what he is, I don’t think it is fair to blame on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.”

It’s amazing the tale you can spin from a typo on a voter registration form:

When asked by the New York Times which reports Cruz was referring to when he said Dear was registered as a woman, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier pointed to a post on The Right Scoop.

This scoop was a bit of extrapolation based on a typo – it could be – you never know. Cruz ran with it, but he’s not the master of this, and Greg Sargent explains:

Over the weekend, Donald Trump continued to dig in behind his assertion that “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey cheered the fall of the Twin Towers. But the argument remained in a kind of he-said-she-said netherworld that skirted the debate’s actual subtext. It was about whether any actual evidence exists of Trump’s claims, and not about his deeper implication that you should fear the violent intentions of huge numbers of American Muslims.

It didn’t happen, but we’re now moving beyond that:

On Morning Joe today, Bloomberg’s John Heilemann asked Trump directly whether he thinks Islam is an inherently violent or peaceful religion. Trump declined to answer, and instead suggested that there is a “lot of hatred” coming out of a “big part” of Islam…

HEILEMANN: “Do you think that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion that’s been perverted by some? Or do you think Islam is an inherently violent religion?”

TRUMP: “All I can say is there’s something going on. I don’t know that that question can be answered. It could be answered two ways. It could be answered both ways. But there’s something going on there. There’s a lot of hatred coming out of at least a big part of it. You see the hatred. We see it every day. You see it, whether it’s in Paris, or whether it’s the World Trade Center… There’s something nasty coming out of there. You could answer it any way you want. But at least we have to know the problem.”

That’s a big extrapolation from an event that didn’t even happen and Sargent sees how that creates a problem:

How will the other GOP presidential candidates react to this? It seems plausible that Jeb Bush might forcefully denounce it, since Bush has unequivocally condemned Trump’s vow to close mosques and his suggestions that we may need a Muslim registry.

Ted Cruz is beginning to escalate his attacks on Trump, apparently in hopes of winning over Trump’s evangelical supporters. But Cruz was very quick to claim after the Paris attacks that Muslim refugees in particular should be barred from entering the United States.

Marco Rubio at first tiptoed carefully around Trump’s mosque comments, and while he subsequently came down a bit harder on them, he plainly has exercised caution around Trump’s gradual ratcheting up of demagoguery, perhaps out of fear of alienating Trump supporters.

Trump is going to force the issue:

By declining to say whether Islam is a violent religion, and by suggesting that “hatred” is coming out of a “big part” of Islam, Trump has exposed the xenophobic subtext of his rhetoric about Muslims, much the way his previous comments about Mexicans helped illuminate the true intended appeal of his immigration prescriptions. Of course, for all we know, this might only help him further with his supporters.

Matt Taibbi has had just about enough of this:

Until recently, the narrative of stories like this has been predictable. If a candidate said something nuts, or seemingly not true, an army of humorless journalists quickly dug up all the facts, and the candidate ultimately was either vindicated, apologized, or suffered terrible agonies.

Al Gore for instance never really recovered from saying, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” True, he never said he invented the Internet, as is popularly believed, but what he did say was clumsy enough that the line followed him around like an STD for the rest of his (largely unsuccessful) political life.

That dynamic has broken down this election season. Politicians are quickly learning that they can say just about anything and get away with it. Along with vindication, apology and suffering, there now exists a fourth way forward for the politician spewing whoppers: Blame the backlash on media bias and walk away a hero.

That’s the way things go now:

Carly Fiorina, in a nationally televised debate, claimed to have watched a nonexistent video of evil feminists harvesting fetal brains. Ben Carson has been through a half-dozen factual dustups, including furious debates over whether or not he stabbed someone and whether or not he once won $10 for being the only honest student in an (apparently nonexistent) Yale psychology class.

Trump, meanwhile, has been through more of these beefs than one can count, even twice blabbing obvious whoppers in live televised debates. Once he claimed the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to help China, moving Rand Paul to point out that China isn’t in the TPP. Another time he denied that he once called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator.” The line was on Trump’s website as he spoke.

In all of these cases, the candidates doubled or tripled down when pestered by reporters and fact-checkers and insisted they’d been victimized by biased media. A great example of how candidates have handled this stuff involved Fiorina.

The former HP chief keeps using a roundly debunked line originally dug up by the Romney campaign, about how 92 percent of the jobs lost under Obama belonged to women. The Romney campaign itself ditched the line because it was wrong even in 2012. When confronted this year, Fiorina simply said, “If the liberal media doesn’t like the data, maybe the liberal media doesn’t like the facts.”

Even the Romney campaign saw no facts there, and didn’t want to be caught making stuff up, but those were the old days:

This latest episode with Trump and the 9/11 “celebrations” was fascinating. When Trump started to take heat, he at first did something one journalist I know calls “panic-Googling.” Panic-Googling is saying or writing something dumb, then frantically rushing to the Internet to see if you can luck out into evidence for what you’ve already blabbed in public.

Trump thought he lucked out, digging up a September 18, 2001, Washington Post article by reporters Serge Kovaleski and Frederick Kunkle. The old clip claimed a few people had been detained after allegedly being spotted celebrating in “tailgate-style” parties on rooftops in northern New Jersey.

Seizing upon this factoid, Trump tweeted, “I want an apology! Many people have tweeted that I am right!”

Forgetting that this didn’t come close to being an affirmation that he’d seen “thousands” of people celebrating on television, Trump’s supporters howled in outrage. Who were these biased witch-hunters to accuse him of lying? The Donald was right all along!

Then it was off to the races:

Other supporters referenced an article by Debbie Schlussel, Detroit’s schlocky Ann Coulter knockoff, who long ago insisted in print that she once watched an MTV news report describing post-9/11 celebrations by Arabs in Paterson, New Jersey. It wasn’t Jersey City, Schlussel said, and Trump got the numbers wrong, but aside from those minor issues, he was dead right.

Next in the progression came Rush Limbaugh, who came to Trump’s defense by saying that “regardless of the specific details,” Trump was right about Muslims on American soil celebrating the collapse of the towers on 9/11. “The bottom line is that a lot of Americans are well aware that Muslims were cheering,” Rush said. “Maybe not in New Jersey in great numbers, but around the world they were because we saw the video.”

As if the “regardless of the specific details” excuse wasn’t weird enough, Trump spokesman Corey Lewandowski next went on Breitbart radio to explain that the campaign had in fact provided material about celebrating Muslims to mainstream news outlets, who were now collectively declining to run it because of an ongoing conspiracy against Trump.

“They want to try and discredit as many people as possible so they can have an establishment candidate come in,” he said, “because they are all controlled by special interests and all controlled by the media.”

Ah, it was a conspiracy, and Taibbi knows who is to blame, and that would be all of us:

It’s our fault. We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that’s basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.

The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.

So we are where we are:

What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service; it’s just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.

And now we’re lost in the fun house:

When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping.

And who shops for products he or she doesn’t want? That’s why the consumer news business was always destined to hit this kind of impasse. You can get by for a long time by carefully selecting the facts you know your audiences will like, and calling that news. But eventually there will be a truth that displeases your customers. What do you do then?

In this case, as Rush said, “Americans are well aware Muslims were cheering” after 9/11. Because America “knows” this, it now expects the news media to deliver that story. And if reporters refuse, it can only be out of bias.

What this 9/11 celebrations story shows is that American news audiences have had their fantasies stroked for so long that they can’t even remember stuff that happened not that long ago. It’s like an organic version of 1984, with audiences constantly editing even their own memories to fit their current attitudes about things.

But this should never have happened:

It was preposterous from the start to think that there could have been contemporaneous broadcasts of “thousands” of people in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Does nobody remember how people felt that day? If there had been such broadcasts, there would have been massacres – angry Americans would have stormed Jersey City.

In fact, police had to be deployed to places like Paterson anyway to protect immigrants from exactly that sort of mob violence. This is one of the reasons we know Muslims weren’t dancing en masse in the streets, because police were parked on those streets in huge numbers to keep people out.

The Newark Star-Ledger did a report in the weeks after the attacks from Paterson showing the city in “virtual lockdown,” with police camped in Muslim neighborhoods for the protection of the locals.

One might also turn to logic:

Beyond all of that: if footage of such a celebration existed, it would have skyrocketed around the country, and not popped off ineffectually on some local broadcast for just Donald Trump to see and remember. The whole thing is nuts.

Not that it matters now:

There are people of all political persuasions who insist to this day they saw something like what Trump described, but nobody describes anything like the scale of the story Trump is spinning. To believe there was a mass demonstration of open, gloating defiance right across the river from Manhattan while the Towers smoldered, speaks to a powerfully crazy fantasy both about American impotence and about a brazen, homogenous evil in Muslim-American communities.

That’s what people want to believe and what you believe you see, even if it’s not there, which scares Taibbi:

If we can’t even remember things correctly even in the video age, things are going to get weird pretty fast in this country.

Too late, we’re there already. Believing is seeing, not that other way around.

How did this happen. Martin Longman has an explanation:

I once defined Palinism as Bushism stripped of all its redeeming features. I think that’s still true, but now it’s the entire Republican Party that is Bushism stripped of its redeeming features. It’s interesting to look back at how this unfolded. … President Bush weaponized the stupid, but it took McCain to deploy it.

What happened, I believe, is that something broke on the right when they were forced to spend September and October of 2008 pretending that it would be okay if Sarah Palin were elected vice-president. The only way to maintain that stance was to jettison all the normal standards we have for holding such a high office. But it also entailed simply insisting that the truth doesn’t matter.

And so, now, seven years down the road, it’s gotten to the point that Republicans have realized that they can say anything they want and just blame media bias if anyone calls them on their lies.

Palin basically invented this is a survival strategy after she fell on her face in her first big interview with Katie Couric. It’s now more than a survival strategy. It’s the Republican Party’s modus operandi.

That’s as good an explanation as any, but that doesn’t explain Donald Trump mocking a reporter with chronic arthrogryposis, which restricts the movement of his arms and hands. Josh Marshall did offer an explanation of why Trump is not apologizing for this but actually going on the offensive over it:

If you’re surprised that Donald Trump isn’t apologizing for mocking a reporter’s physical handicap and doesn’t seem to be paying any price for it, let me help. Half of rightwing politics is about resentment over perceived demands for apologies. Apologies about race, about fear of Muslims, about not being politically correct, about not liking the losers and the moochers, about Christmas, about being white… This will hurt Trump about as much as going after Megyn Kelly did. Remember: his biggest applause line at the first GOP debate came for calling Rosie O’Donnell a fat slob.

About half of the juice of far-right politics in this country is rooted in refusing to apologize when ‘elites’ or right-thinking people reprove you for not being ‘politically correct.’

Kevin Drum adds to that:

The thing about Trump is that he talks as if he’s sitting at home with a couple of his buddies. In settings like that, lots of us make casually derisive remarks that we wouldn’t make in public. But Trump does say it in public, and to his supporters that’s great. He’s finally saying the stuff that they’re quite sure everybody says in private.

The giveaway was this bit from Trump about Kovaleski: “He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a paper that is rapidly going down the tubes.” That’s what Trump’s fans think is going on all over the place. The blacks, the Hispanics, the disabled, the immigrants, the poor: sure, they’ve got problems, but who doesn’t? They’re just making a big deal out of it in order to gain sympathy and government bennies that the rest of us have to pay for. And the worst part is that you know what everyone else is already thinking about this claptrap, but you get in trouble if you say it.

Is it true? It doesn’t matter:

Republican candidates have tapped this vein of resentment for years, but usually in coded ways that won’t get them in too much hot water. Trump just dives in. Other politicians may have paved the way, but it’s Trump who’s finally figured out how to turn it into electoral gold.

Trump figured out that what you believe, you’ll see, even if it’s not there – and then it will be there. All he has to say is what isn’t there really is there, over and over and over. That’s electoral gold, until people start laughing at you. But that day hasn’t come yet, has it? Maybe, now, it never will come.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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