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“Under the Dome”: How The Conservative Media Are Keeping The GOP From Moving Past The Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Over the weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee issued a call to arms to conservatives not to give up the fight against same-sex marriage, based on his bizarre belief that no decision of the Supreme Court has the force of law unless Congress passes legislation to confirm it. Because of that, Huckabee says, the fight can continue unhindered no matter what the court does. “I’m utterly disgusted with fellow Republicans who want to walk away from the issue of judicial supremacy just because it’s politically volatile,” he said. “Here’s my advice: Grow a spine!” Huckabee’s legal analysis may be idiosyncratic (to put it kindly), but his position — that this isn’t a fight conservatives should abandon just because they’ve nearly lost it — is one with plenty of purchase among the Republican faithful. And he’s hardly the only one with a media pulpit from which to preach it. In fact, the division within the GOP has a parallel in the conservative media. The presence of hard-liners (or dead-enders, if you prefer) like Huckabee is going to make it all the more difficult and painful for the party to evolve in the way its more sober strategists know it must.

Conservatives worked very hard over a period of decades to build up their own media to serve as an alternative and a counterweight to a mainstream press they saw as biased against them. This project was spectacularly successful, particularly with the explosion of right-wing talk radio in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the launch of Fox News in 1996. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that people began questioning whether it was doing the movement more harm than good by encasing conservatives in a self-reinforcing bubble from which it became increasingly difficult to see the outside world clearly.

Just as there are divisions within the GOP, there are divisions within the conservative media. And just as the party’s conservatives make it hard to make strategically necessary shifts — or simply avoid moving too far to the right — the continued power of hard-line media figures can keep the party from modernizing.

Since 2012, Republicans have been fretting about how they can “reach out” to minority groups, particularly Latinos, in order to widen their appeal beyond the older white folks who are the core of the party. The trouble is that it’s hard to reach out when elected officials within your party keep loudly proclaiming their anti-immigrant views. The same is true on gay marriage. The party’s national strategists would like nothing better than for the issue to go away. They know that the policy outcome is inevitable and public opinion is not turning back, so there’s little point in mounting some kind of rear-guard action against it, one that will only make the party look outdated and out of touch. But as Greg and I both pointed out last week, potential future presidential candidate Ted Cruz is going to force a debate on it in 2016 whether other Republicans like it or not.

Some parts of the conservative media will do the same thing. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters observes that in most of its programming, Fox News has all but stopped talking about same-sex marriage. But that’s not going to silence Huckabee (whose show runs on Fox on the weekends), or Rush Limbaugh, or many of the other radio hosts with huge audiences. As long as they press the issue, the Republican base will still demand that candidates proclaim their objections to the changes taking place in the country, and the harder it remains for the party to move past its vehement opposition to marriage equality. Everyone knows that evolution will have to take place eventually, but the conservative media have the power to make the transition inordinately painful.

Fox’s abdication of the marriage issue demonstrates that the network functions as the semi-official organ of the Republican Party. Roger Ailes may be in business to make money, but he won’t do so in ways that harm the interests of the GOP. The same, however, can’t be said of everyone with a large conservative audience. On a whole range of domestic issues, from immigration to marriage equality to reproductive rights, they’re going to continue pulling the party to the right even when it has to turn back to the center or risk electoral disaster (like, say, the election of a certain former secretary of state to the White House). Conservative media have been great at keeping the rabble angry and excited, getting them to the polls and getting them to open their wallets. But when the party needs to take a cold hard look at reality and evolve or get left behind, the same media are going to be an albatross holding it back.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 13, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unreasoning Dread”: Freaking Out About Ebola Isn’t Helping

One afternoon two weeks ago, I did my best to calm a friend who’d become fearful that her son would contract Ebola in Syria. The young man had enlisted in the National Guard. She knew the U.S. was bombing ISIS terrorists there, and that people were talking about “boots on the ground.” She thought she’d heard about a Syrian Ebola outbreak on TV.

Because others were listening, I didn’t want to embarrass her. I suggested she’d misheard a reference to Sierra Leone, a tiny country in the tropical forest of West Africa where the Ebola epidemic rages — thousands of miles from Syria, which borders on Israel. The road to Damascus and all that.

The Bible reference helped. A guy in a John Deere cap backed me up. Syria was definitely not in Africa. My friend was mollified.

I’m sure she’s heard plenty more about Ebola since then, possibly even about Sierra Leone, a nation of which most Americans have zero knowledge. A lifelong map nut, I’d have had to search for it myself.

Although my friend is an intelligent person with a lively wit, it wasn’t her ignorance of geography I found so surprising. After all, polls showed only 17 percent of Americans could locate Iraq on a map back when the U.S. invaded in 2003. Rather, it was her unreasoning dread of Ebola, a tropical disease wholly limited at that time to three countries in West Africa.

Now that a single Ebola victim from neighboring Liberia has made his way to Dallas, isn’t that fear more justifiable? Shouldn’t we be running around with our hair on fire like the talking heads on cable TV? Isn’t it time for our government to do something drastic, such as banning all travel from West Africa to prevent Ebola-stricken refugees from bringing this terrifying plague to America?

Actually, no and no. Freaking out never helps when there’s real danger. For once, I felt sympathetic toward Gov. Rick Perry, who, because the Liberian victim ended up at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, was compelled to act like a competent government official instead of a carnival barker.

“Rest assured that our system is working as it should,” Perry said during a hospital press conference. “Professionals on every level of the chain of command know what to do to minimize this potential risk to the people of Texas and this country.”

Of course that wasn’t strictly true. Due to a communications snafu too common in hospitals, the first physician who examined the victim wasn’t told he’d traveled from Liberia, misread the chart, and bungled the diagnosis.

But that still doesn’t mean the sky is falling. Medical experts agree that while deadly in Third World environments, Ebola is both treatable and relatively hard to catch. Patients aren’t contagious until they’re visibly ill. Even then direct contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids — saliva, vomit, stool, urine, etc. — is necessary. Unlike a cold, it can’t be transmitted through the air.

Writing in The New Yorkerbrilliant surgeon and author Atul Gawande documents a South African case in which some 300 hospital workers treated an undiagnosed Ebola patient for 12 days without contracting the disease.

Isolate patients, monitor their intimate contacts, dispose of their waste properly, and Ebola can be stopped. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) the likelihood of a mass Ebola outbreak in the United States is remote.

Perhaps that makes the disgraceful performance of so many self-styled “conservative” pundits and GOP politicians a bit less disturbing. Going all Chicken Little and doing everything possible to use a public health crisis for partisan ends would be even more contemptible if the danger were as great as they pretend.

As usual, Fox News personalities led the charge. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sought to use Ebola to foment petulant mistrust of government in general and President Obama in particular.

It all somehow reminded him of Benghazi.

“The Ebola scare,” Huckabee claimed “goes to the heart of a simple question: do you trust the government. Audience, do you trust the government?”

Fox News and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham hosted crank medical conspiracy theorist Dr. Elizabeth Vliet, who accused Obama of downplaying Ebola for political reasons. Rush Limbaugh suggested that the president sees Ebola as a punishment for slavery, and won’t ban travel to and from West Africa out of political correctness.

Several GOP politicians, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have suggested basically quarantining entire countries, a “solution” that sounds sensible until you think about it for 30 seconds.

For example, would that mean volunteer doctors, nurses, missionaries and soldiers couldn’t come home? And then what? A catastrophically worsening epidemic in Africa, that’s what.

I’ll say this too: If Ebola were happening, in say, Denmark or Belgium, we’d be having a far saner conversation.

But then it couldn’t, which is part of the point.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 8, 2014

October 10, 2014 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, Conservatives, Public Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unemployment Truthers See New Conspiracy”: There’s Just No Way That Reality Is Real

Two years ago this week, the nation’s unemployment dipped below 8% for the first time since the start of the Great Recession. Almost immediately, Republicans were outraged – the good news couldn’t be real, they said, but rather must be the result of an elaborate conspiracy.

Friday we learned that the nation’s jobless rate has dipped even lower, dropping below 6% for the first time in over six years. Rush Limbaugh told his audience that the 2012 data was “entirely made up” and “artificially manufactured,” and the 2014 data is worse.

“[T]his today is just as illegitimate. This 5.9% number is even more illegitimate than the 7.9% number. There’s no way that this country has an economy producing jobs with an unemployment rate of 5.9%. It just isn’t happening…. [I]t isn’t real.”

Over the course of two years, from Jack Welch to Rush Limbaugh, we just haven’t seen much in the way of progress on the scourge of denialism among President Obama’s critics.

Indeed, this has come up quite a few times. Whenever the economy improves, a few too many on the right don’t celebrate; they reflexively deny the evidence and point to a conspiracy that exists only in their imaginations.

I’m reminded of this piece from Alex Seitz-Wald, now an msnbc colleague, written when Fox News first began pushing these conspiracy theories in earnest: “If it weren’t improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold a strong belief about something, invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers.”

If nothing else, Limbaugh’s assessment was helpful in its candor: in his mind, there’s just “no way” that reality is real. It can’t be real, therefore, it’s not real, evidence be damned.

I can appreciate where the denial comes from. Republicans just know that last year’s tax increases on the wealthy are slowing the economy; they just know that “Obamacare” is destroying the job market; they just know federal regulations are strangling economic vitality.

And when reality presents proof that they’re mistaken, well, reality must be wrong, too. “Those Chicago guys” must be at it again.

The right was so certain the Affordable Care Act would fail that it literally couldn’t believe the enrollment numbers. The right was equally certain that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a landslide victory, so it seemed obvious to them that pollsters conspired to ensure that survey results were “skewed.”

Climate data is politically inconvenient, so it must be rejected. The job numbers are politically inconvenient, so they must be ignored, too.

Such systemic hostility towards empiricism just isn’t healthy.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Jobs, Unemployment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Irrational Fears”: Ebola Shouldn’t Be The New Political Football

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel. Almost immediately, the right started complaining bitterly.

“We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners. “I didn’t know you could shoot a virus. Did you?”

Now that an Ebola case has been diagnosed in the United States, the right’s politicization instincts are kicking in once more. Fox News’ Steve Doocy went so far as to suggest the CDC may not be entirely trustworthy – it’s part of the Obama administration, Doocy said, which Fox News viewers believe “has misled a lot of people on a lot of things.”

And then there’s Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who’s worried about Ebola and “political correctness.”

[Paul] on Wednesday questioned President Obama’s decision to dispatch 3,000 U.S. troops to West Africa to help combat the Ebola virus.

“Where is disease most transmittable? When you’re in very close confines on a ship,” Paul said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “We all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily and the whole ship gets sick. Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?”

The senator specifically added, “I really think it is being dominated by political correctness.”

Also yesterday, Paul talked about Ebola with Glenn Beck – because, you know, that’s what U.S. senators and prospective presidential candidates do – and argued that the public may not be frightened enough. “I do think you have to be concerned,” the Kentucky Republican told Beck. “It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch…. I’m very concerned about this. I think at the very least there needs to be a discussion about airline travel between the countries that have the raging disease.”

I’ll assume the senator isn’t recommending a flight ban for Dallas.

Because Rand Paul has a medical background, some may be more inclined to take his concerns seriously on matters of science and public health. With this in mind, it’s probably worth noting that the senator, prior to starting a career in public office four years ago, was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before making the leap to Capitol Hill.

So when Paul compares Ebola to an ailment that is “transmitted very easily,” and describes the virus as “incredibly transmissible,” it’s a mistake to assume the senator knows what he’s talking about. There are actual medical experts and specialists in the field of transmittable diseases – and the junior senator from Kentucky isn’t one of them.

If Paul were just a little more responsible, he wouldn’t make public comments like these at a time when many Americans already have irrational fears.

As for concern for the safety of U.S. troops, CNN reports that the Pentagon does not expect servicemen and women to come in direct contact with Ebola patients as part of the American response to the African outbreak.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 2, 2014

October 3, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Public Health, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Round Of Conservative Complaints”: Even A Response To Ebola Can Apparently Be Politicized

President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this week to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel.

It’s one of the most aggressive responses in U.S. history to a disease outbreak. Michele Richinick reported that “as many as 3,000 military personnel will assist in training new health care workers and building treatment clinics in the countries affected by the disease,” and some of our financial resources will be used to “construct 17 new treatment centers, each with 100 beds, and 10,000 sets of protective equipment and supplies to help 400,000 families protect themselves from the epidemic that is spreading exponentially.”

A day later, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, announced plans to establish “a new on-the-ground mission in West Africa to coordinate the struggle against Ebola,” while the World Bank Group issued a report warning of a “potentially catastrophic blow” to the economies of countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Given all of this, it seems like an odd time for conservative media to start a new round of complaints.

Right-wing media are using President Obama’s plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a “hypocrite” because he’s sending “more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS”; labeling the plan “arrogant” because of problems with HealthCare.gov; and accusing him of trying to “change the subject” by “fighting a really bad flu bug.”

It was former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) who equated the Ebola virus with a “really bad flu bug.”

Rush Limbaugh added, “We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists…. I didn’t know you could shoot a virus. Did you?”

For what it’s worth, there’s a credible argument to explain why a military component should be part of the response to an outbreak like this. Julia Belluz had an interesting piece on this yesterday, noting the larger debate.

Obama has repeatedly referred to the threat of Ebola in security terms, arguing the virus could cripple the already fragile economies in the African region. He’s made the case that this will have consequences for not only the security of countries there, but also for nations around the world – even if the virus doesn’t spread beyond Africa.

For examples of this war-like mentality, look no further than the president’s address, delivered Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta: “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us. So this is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security – it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.”

It’s a fairly easy argument to make. There are critics of the “securitization” of these public-health crises, but in countries facing “potentially catastrophic” economic and destabilizing conditions, it’s not hard to imagine unrest and possible violence.

The point is not to “shoot a virus”; it’s to create conditions in which people who contract the virus can receive care.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2014

September 19, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, Public Health, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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