Friday, November 30, 2012

Coping with post-truth politics

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The following is another post republished here with permission of the author David Roberts. The original piece was entitled "Post-truth politics," and it was published in Grist: A Beacon in the Smog on April 1, 2010. This is being republished as reference material going forward and because Glenn Beck engages in post-truth politics to a degree that far exceeds what Congressional Republicans engage in.

a master of post-truth politics

During this strange lull in the (endless) development of the federal climate bill, I’ve been mulling over a few political notions.
First: voters don’t generally know much about politics or policy. They have things they do know a lot about (American Idol, baseball teams, accounting software, scrapbooking), but for most voters, politics and policy aren’t among them. Voters use crude heuristics to assess legislative proposals. This runs somewhat counter to the idealized Enlightenment view, which goes something like this: Voters
  1. gather facts,
  2. draw conclusions from the facts,
  3. form issue positions based on the conclusions, and
  4. choose a political party that shares those issue positions.
The best evidence from political science shows that the process is almost exactly the reverse. Voters:
  1. choose a tribe or party based on value affiliations,
  2. adopt the issue positions of the tribe,
  3. develop arguments that support those issue positions, and
  4. choose facts to bolster those arguments.
(For more on this see It Feels Like We’re Thinking [PDF] by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels.)
Though party is the most common tribe and the best indicator of issues positions, there are other heuristics at work as well. One crude way to judge a proposal is by how much support it’s getting from the “other side.” To most voters out in the vast middle, consensus across parties is a very strong indicator of acceptability. Conversely, if there is no support on the other side — if the proposal is controversial — there is something suspect about it.
Notice, however, that heuristic creates a perverse incentive. It’s captured perfectly in this post by John Holbo, who asks you to imagine a two-party system wherein one party has poor discipline (members often stray to the other side on individual votes) and the other iron discipline (always voting as a bloc):
Over time, both parties will push positive proposals/legislation. Quite obviously, the Bipartisan Party will be at a tactical disadvantage, due to its lax discipline. Less obviously, it will have an ongoing optics problem. All the proposals of the Partisan Party will be bipartisan. That is, a few members of the other party will, predictably, peel off and cross the aisle to stand with the Partisans. None of the proposals of the Bipartisan Party, on the other hand, will ever be bipartisan. No Partisan will ever support a Bipartisan measure. In fact, all proposals of the Bipartisan party will face bipartisan opposition — as a few Bipartisans trudge across the aisle (there are always a few!) to stand with the Partisans. Result: the Partisan party, thanks to its unremitting opposition to bipartisanship, will be able to present itself as the party of bipartisanship, and be able to critique the Bipartisan Party, with considerable force and conviction, as the hypocritically hyperpartisan party of pure partisanship.
This is, of course, exactly the tenor of the criticism Democrats have gotten from Republicans and political pundits. Because Republicans refuse en masse to support Democratic proposals, those proposals have been characterized as controversial and extreme. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been uncommonly candid about the strategy:
“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”
Republicans have quite cannily figured out how to manipulate voters’ heuristics. No matter what Democrats do or propose, Republicans meet it with maximal, united opposition, criticizing it as socialism, tyranny, or appeasement. They’ve accurately realized that all they have to do to render Democratic proposals controversial is refuse to support them.
As a consequence, no matter what Democrats do or propose, they’ll have to deal with the optics of their proposals appearing partisan.
We live in post-truth politics: a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation). This obviously dims any hope of reasoned legislative compromise. But in another way, it can be seen as liberating. If the political damage of maximal Republican opposition is a fixed quantity — if policy is orthogonal to politics — then there is little point to policy compromises. They do not appreciably change the politics. [Emphasis added]
For Democrats shaping policy, this suggests a two-fold strategy. First, they should pull attention to issues and proposals where the political ground is already favorable, from broad stuff like financial reform to narrow bills on jobs and energy. Second, on those issues that are inevitably going to be controversial, aim for maximally effective policy and deal with the politics separately. In post-truth politics, attempting to change perceptions by weakening policy is a category mistake. Remember, no matter what shape a Democratic proposal takes — a centrist health-care bill full of ideas Republicans supported just a year ago or a cap-and-trade system like the one first implemented under George H.W. Bush — Republican opposition will be maximal.
So: fight the opposition on political grounds and concurrently craft the best, most effective policy possible. The political controversy around a bill, whether it’s over partisanship, back-room deals, or procedural maneuvers, is ephemeral. It will pass quickly. In the end, the policy will be judged by its effects on voters’ lives — whether it solved the problem it was designed to solve.
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three Senators practicing post-truth politics to attack Susan Rice

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The following post is being republished here with permission of the author, David Roberts. The original piece was entitled "Policy in the Age of Post-truth Politics," and it was published in Grist: A Beacon in the Smog. This is being republished because Glenn Beck practices the art of deceitful propaganda which blends facts, ignorant nonsense and post-truth politics (along with fear-mongering, race-baiting, name calling, the paranoid style, etc). At the end of this piece will be two videos on the topic of post-truth posturing by three Republican Senators regarding the story that UN Ambassador Susan Rice told the media in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks on the consulate that killed four Americans.

Ezra Klein
As Joe Romm noted the other day, Ezra Klein has an interesting column in WaPo making the case that, in terms of policy, Obama “is a moderate Republican of the early 1990s.” Putting aside the emergency measures responding to the economic crisis, Obama’s signature initiatives have been a health-care bill modeled on Mitt Romney’s and a cap-and-trade bill modeled on George Bush Sr.’s. Both of those original policies were successful, but when Obama took them up, Republicans fled en masse. Says Klein, “as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals.”
I agree with Kevin Drum that those policies were never truly Republican: They were compromises Republicans felt forced to accept to avoid worse (i.e., more liberal) policies. It’s probably fair to call them centrist. Either way, I’m not sure “moved to the right” is the best way to describe what Republicans have done.
For decades Republicans have single-mindedly pursued a few core goals: reducing taxes on the wealthy, dismantling the post-war social welfare state, and freeing corporations from regulatory restraints. Sometimes that has meant short-term compromises and half-measures, sometimes it’s meant exploiting culture war resentments, sometimes it’s meant a pose of moderation (compassionate conservatism). Very often — almost always — it’s meant couching the agenda in other terms, since it is, if you poll it directly, wildly unpopular with the public. Americans want to tax the rich more, protect entitlement programs, and put tighter rules on corporations.
Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.
In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They’ve realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.
So it’s not that they “moved right” on some policy spectrum when Obama took office. They just adopted a new political strategy, namely total, unremitting, hysterical oppositionalism. Mitch McConnell accurately foresaw that it was the only thing that could revive the battered party after 2008, and it has paid off richly. Conservatives are becoming less reticent about voicing their real agenda, but the agenda itself never changed.
The political logic behind Obama’s center-right health-care plan (and center-right cap-and-trade plan, and too-small stimulus with too many tax cuts, and too-mild financial reform) is that there is a “center” in the policy spectrum, and that if he chooses policies located there, moderate Republicans, by virtue of their previous policy commitments, will be forced to work with him, and he will get credit for being reasonable and centrist, which will translate into votes, victories, and political momentum. That has been the basic approach of his presidency. Unfortunately, it reflects a naive policy literalism that is absolutely ubiquitous on the left.
What happened instead? On policy after policy, Obama began with grand, magnanimous concessions (see: offshore drilling) and waited in vain for reciprocation. He adopted center-right policies … and was attacked as a radical secular socialist Muslim babykiller. Every Dem proposal, no matter how mild, has been a government takeover complete with confiscatory taxes, death panels, and incipient tyranny. The fusillade of lies began early and has continued unabated.
Now, on the naive, positivist view, the media and other elite referees of public debate should have called a foul. Republicans should have been penalized for opposing and maligning policies that they’d supported not long ago, for brazenly lying, and for rejecting all attempts at compromise. They chose the strategy; the strategy should have been explained plainly to the public.
But the crucial fact of post-truth politics is that there are no more referees. There are only players. The right has its own media, its own facts, its own world. In that world, the climate isn’t warming, domestic drilling can solve the energy crisis, and Obama is a socialist Kenyan. (Did you see Obama’s birth certificate yet? If he had that much trouble convincing people he was born in the country, how did he expect to convince them he’s a reasonable moderate?) Obama can back centrist policies all day, but there is no mechanism to convey that centrism to the broad voting public. There is no judge settling disputes or awarding points. His strategy — achieve political advantage through policy concessions — has failed. His approval ratings are down and the government is headed for a train wreck.
Yet still there seems to be this craving, in Obama and sooo many other self-styled pragmatic, post-partisan moderates, to take the politics out of politics. To have an Adult Conversation. To be Reasonable People, to draw forth other Reasonable People with the power of ideas and together transcend petty partisan squabbling and move forward with a Commonsense Agenda based on Shared Values. (Are you tingling yet?)
It’s a nice idea but it’s not how American politics works. There is no huge class of uncommitted independents waiting to be persuaded. There are no Reasonable People behind the curtain, pulling the strings. The selling points of the conservative agenda — small government, free markets, patriotism — have no motive force of their own. They are not binding and command no intellectual consistency (which is why the endless, tiresome charges of hypocrisy from the left are so fruitless). They are the politics, not the policy, and the two are not connected. The policy, the motive force among conservative elites, is a defense of America’s oligarchic status quo and a redistribution of wealth upward. It is those voices that speak in the ears of our political class and that agenda that commands the assent of one and a half of America’s two parties. It’s not hard to see why: our political system is choked with veto points, vulnerable to motivated minorities, insulated from public opinion, and flooded with money.
It is genuinely difficult to say what, if anything, can rally the left’s diverse constituencies into a political force capable of counterbalancing the influence of the country’s oligarchy. The much-maligned greens had a pretty damn strong run at it. As I said before …
… environmentalists pulled together a huge coalition of businesses, religious groups, military groups, unions, and social justice groups. They got a majority of U.S. citizens on their side, as polls repeatedly showed. And — here’s the kicker — on the back of all that work, they got a majority of legislators in both houses of Congress on their side.
In a sane world — and in other developed democracies —that’s what success looks like.
But in the U.S. political system, it wasn’t enough.
I’ll tell you what I don’t think will work: Dems using policy concessions to try to win political fights. Somehow Andy Revkin picks through the wreckage of the climate fight and concludes that one of the culprits was “a failure on the part of the major environmental groups and their allies to compromise earlier in the legislative effort to address climate change.” Of course cap-and-trade itself was born as a compromise, and at every step of the process the climate bill was compromised further and further until there was almost nothing left of it, but at no point did all that compromising change the politics a whit. It didn’t move the needle at all. What does Revkin take from this? We needed even bigger compromises, even earlier! Some how, some way, those unreasonable hippies must be to blame for this.
Revkin and the Breakthrough folks would have us believe that policy differences are at the root of the failure to dethrone fossil fuels. It’s just the wrong ideas, the wrong five-point plan. The climate bill that passed the House had R and D spending, consumer rebates, clean energy incentives, efficiency standards, development programs for clean cars and low-energy buildings, and a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions. But it just had the wrong mix of those policies, you see. A different mix, with more emphasis on R and D, would have brought Reasonable People out of the woodwork!
Matt Nisbet says, “We really need to get beyond power politics on climate change, where almost anything goes to win politically in the short-term.” Yeah, that’s the problem: the left was just too darn merciless on the climate bill, too united, too willing to spend money and primary opponents and stay on message. Too much focus on power, that’s what went wrong! Again that forlorn, undying hope: that the politics can be taken out of politics.
If we do compromise more, quit talking about pollution, get rid of any penalties or limits or mandates, and just ask for some research money, Republicans will join us on that, right?
No. And not a theoretical no. Not a prediction. They have rejected those overtures before and they are rejecting them as we speakmocking and attacking green R and D and any form of support for clean energy or low-carbon infrastructure. It’s not that they disagreed with green groups about the best way to get beyond fossil fuels; they disagreed about the need to do so. That is the policy, even if the politics was “all of the above.”
Yet even now, still, everyone wants to think that they could have won the climate fight if greens had only listened to their clever policy approach. If they could just get the hippies to shut up, they could show the referees how reasonable they are, and the referees would call it in their favor.
But the referees have left the building. Policy is policy. Politics is politics. First you figure out what you want — in my case, I want clean energy, dense land use, and economic justice — and then you take every chance to make progress toward those goals. Meanwhile, you wage political war with the tools of politics: money, message, organization, solidarity, and a healthy dose of ruthless opportunism. Policy concessions aren’t just a poor weapon in that war; they are no weapon at all.

Senators Ayotte, McCain and Graham
"Republicans have mastered post-truth politics." This phenomenon has been playing out recently with attacks on Ambassador Rice for the stories she conveyed to the media. On The Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell discusses McCain and Graham's attacks on Ms. Rice on Nov. 27th with his guests.

For a more humorous version of this issue, which exposes the double standards being practiced by these Senators, watch Jon Stewart cover this on The Daily Show from Nov. 28th.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

What is Obama politically?

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It well known by anyone paying attention to Glenn Beck that he believes the President is a "Marxist," "socialist," and "communist." Beck has spent four years smearing the President thus, but when President Obama received the endorsement and support of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, that should have put Glenn Beck's deceitful propaganda to bed. Not likely. Beck has already declared that he's going to "double down" on his outrageous and often absurd assertions against the President, so it's worth citing another conservative, Andrew Sullivan, regarding what he believes Obama to be politically speaking.

Sullivan appeared the night of the election on The Colbert Report. Via Colbert Nation:

According to Sullivan, Obama is a "moderate," a far cry from the radical "Marxist" Beck falsely paints him as. So who is Andrew Sullivan? According to Wikipedia, he describes himself as...
...a conservative and is the author of The Conservative Soul. He has supported a number of traditional conservative positions. He favors a flat taxlimited government, and opposes welfare state programs and interventionism. 
Sullivan rejected the "liberal" label, on the grounds that he supports a flat tax, rejects progressive taxation as unjust and counter-productive, is skeptical of universal healthcare "on European lines" and supports a free market in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, strongly, supports "fighting a war against Jihadist terror", and therefore does not meet Forbes magazine's own criteria for a "liberal", which include support for progressive taxation and universal healthcare and "a certain queasiness about the war on terror."
Unlike Glenn Beck (or Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity for that matter) Sullivan graduated from college. He actually knows what he is talking about.

Limbaugh                                       Hannity

Something that the President is not is progressive, a political ideology that Beck has been distorting and deceitfully attacking and distorting for four years. If you doubt that, read "The Do-Nothing 44th President" by progressive David Michael Green, author of The Regressive Antidote. If you're still not convinced that President Obama is (barely) liberal and not progressive, read "If we call Obama 'progressive,' are we ignoring his record." In this piece, professor and progressive activist Cornel West states:
I’m glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in black face, with Barack Obama...That’s what we have. Richard Nixon is to the left of him on healthcare. Richard Nixon is to the left of him on guaranteed income. And the same policies in terms of imperial foreign policy is at work.
Finally, former adviser to President Reagan, Bruce Bartlett, has declared President Obama to be a "moderate conservative." There is no way that pro-corporate, Barack Obama, can objectively be considered a progressive, and this will likely become even more apparent in the President's 2nd term.

Beck will, no doubt, "double down" as he put it and continue to lie about the President and distort his record.  Clearly, Beck's supporters will not acknowledge that Beck is a professional liar. That would undermine their entire world-view, a fiction that Beck has helped create in their minds, and their misunderstanding that he tells the "truth," a claim that Beck repeats over and over and over as a slogan. (It's called programming.)

reactionary, deceitful propagandist

In all likelihood, Beck will assist in the effort to make the Republican Party a reflection of his extremist, reactionary, Tea Party values for four more years. Ironically, if racist Beck is successful in that quest, he may help carry the Republican Party toward the ashcan of history. That would be a sad and ironic ending for the Party that abolished slavery in the United States.

Update, 11/15/2012: Previously, the publisher of The American Conservative, Wick Allison, was quoted indicating how critical he was of Governor Romney ("the opposite of conservative"). Allison was contacted and asked who he voted for in this recent election and why. He responded:
I voted for Obama because he was the more conservative of the two candidates. In fact, Obama so far has been a more conservative president than Richard Nixon, whom you will recall imposed wage and price controls. The tax rate under Nixon for high earners was 70 percent. (And, by the way, under Reagan it was 50 percent). 
My concern is that the Republican Party cannot be trusted with the keys to the Treasury. The party of fiscal responsibility, despite its posturing during campaigns, has in office demonstrated such reckless fiscal irresponsibility that I cannot see how any traditional conservative could possibility vote to return it to the White House.
When you hear someone call the President a "Marxist" or "socialist," contain your laugh at the ignorant tool and tell him or her to read what genuine conservatives think about Obama.

Update, 12/9/2012: In a piece published on Truthout by Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, the authors make the following point which, again, undermines the absurd anti-Obama propaganda spewed by Glenn Beck:
Two recent polls by Public Policy Polling, which was recognized as the most accurate polling service during the 2012 election, capture this disturbing mindset of registered Republicans. Driven by rants that President Obama is a socialist trying to destroy the American way of life, 25% of registered Republicans want their respective states to secede from the union. Here in the real world, President Obama has been very good to corporate America, overseeing the largest increase in corporate profits since 1900. In fact, corporate profits today as a percent of GDP are higher than they’ve ever been before in our nation’s history.  So either President Obama is the worst socialist ever, or he’s read a lot more Milton Friedman than Karl Marx.
Again, when you hear someone call the President a "Marxist" or "socialist," tell him or her to read what sane, informed people think about Obama.

Update, 12/23/2012: It turns out that Obama himself recognizes how conservative he is. In a Fiscal Times piece, Bruce Barlett wrote, "the nation no longer has a party of the left, but one of the center-right that is akin to what were liberal Republicans in the past – there is no longer any such thing as a liberal Republican – and a party of the far right. 

In a little-noticed comment on Spanish-language television on December 14, Obama himself confirmed this typology of today's political spectrum. Said Obama, 'The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.' " [Emphasis added]

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Glenn Beck's epic failure

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Before the election Glenn Beck tried his damndest to scare the hell out of his gullible followers and motivate them, presumably, to support Governor Flip Flop for President. Of course, it didn't work out as the reactionaries and conservatives wanted it to. In fact, just the opposite with President Obama winning re-election, the Senate becoming even more progressive and at least two Tea Party Representatives, including Beck ally, Allen West, going down to defeat.

First, listen to Beck at his fear-mongering, irrational best. Via News Corps: The Internet's Chronicle of Media Decay:

It's a delightful fantasy to consider banishing the anti-science religunuts like Beck to some Caribbean Island, but in fact one of the most prominent features of liberalism is tolerance of people like Beck and his flock. And make no mistake about it, the elections of 2012 was a resounding victory for liberals.

Today Beck is asserting that he's going to "double down" on his reactionary agenda, and that's fine. Let him. We know how successful he was in the last four years in his effort to undermine the President's authority and to make him a one-term president, i.e., not at all.

After all of the tears, all of Beck's fears and all of his smears, they amounted to diddly. Glenn Beck failed, and for that America can move forward, if only a little bit here and there, now and then, with a Republican House of Representatives to continue their obstruction of the President.

after the tears, Beck admits his ignorance

Like many propagandists on Fox "News," Beck had predicted a Romney landslide. In his morning radio show monologue today, Beck made an astonishing admission:
 I said over the summer, you know what really scares me is I’m always wrong about politics. I can’t ‑‑ I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in politics, and I guess my arrogance or misunderstanding of the peace and comfort that I felt in my prayers that I thought I did understand politics. No, I didn’t understand politics and I also didn’t understand God, and I also didn’t understand the American people, or at least half of them.
Beck understands far fewer than half of the American people. Of course, Beck is not one to let his own ignorance about politics, God and people stop him from continuing to pretend as if he knows what he's talking about. Beck has made a huge success from his utter ignorance of politics, and he has promised to "double down." Of course he will. Being a gifted talker and severely ignorant about politics works very well for Republicans of talk radio. The sad thing is, you really can fool some of the people all of the time.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Republicans "will never have the ... smart people on our side."

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Be a smart voter!

In September of this year, Glenn Beck ally and former presidential candidate, Senator Santorum, told the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC that the Republicans "will never have the elite, smart people on our side." Today is the day to make that assertion a reality because, in large part, most Republicans are not on the side of the common, average people.

Tom Pennington / Getty Images

If you're a smart person, you'll be deciding among Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, Barack Obama and Gary Johnson as to whom to vote for president of the United States if you have not already. Given the bold-faced dishonesty and slippery quality of Republican Gov. Romney, one must agree with Rick Santorum. There is no way that anyone smart and aware of Romney's qualities as a candidate and a businessman would side with the Republicans for this election, maybe "never." For readers who do not consider themselves either smart or aware, before you...
get out and vote,

please read a few of these previous posts that show just how extreme, dishonest and of poor judgment Gov. Romney has demonstrated he is.
If you doubt that Gov. Romney is trying to lie his way into the White House, check out the 49 lies listed on just one of 39 web pages listing his many false claims. See "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Volume XXXIX."

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