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“When Is It Okay To Exploit Fear?”: Deliberately Increasing People’s Sense Of Insecurity To Make Them Vote For You

When I saw that President Obama had remote-psychoanalyzed Trump voters, I knew that the right would go crazy and say that it reminded them of his infamous bitter-clinger comments from 2008. At this point, it’s Pavlovian. What I saw from right-wing blogger Tom Maguire was a little unexpected, however.

He took a screenshot of the New York Times headline, which read: Obama Accuses Trump of Exploiting Working-Class Fears. And then he posed a rhetorical question for all of us:

The headline is baffling – exploiting fears is now a political no-no? – and shows a failure of nerve somewhere in the editorial process.

For a moment it was me who was baffled. It took a second to process what exactly Maguire was getting at. To me, “exploiting fears” is a moral failing. Full stop.

For Maguire, exploiting fears is a given in the political process and unworthy of notice.

At first, I was offended. Then I realized that we’re both probably correct in our own way, but with limitations.

I’m sure if I challenged him, Maguire would recite countless examples of Democratic politicians exploiting the fears of the electorate. These would be fears about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, or fears about NSA surveillance, or fears about grandma losing her Medicare or Social Security. No doubt, talking about the bad things that may result if the other party wins is a core element of all political campaigning, and it always has been.

I think this is different in kind, though, than using fear itself as a political tool. It’s hard to draw a hard line, and it’s partly about the merit of the threat you’re talking about. Jim Geraghty tried to get at the distinction in a piece he just wrote at the National Review that complains about Democratic accusations of fear-mongering.

…all of other threats that we’re told are more likely to kill us than a terrorist — other drivers, the ladder at home, the stove, the local swimming pool – aren’t deliberately trying to kill us.

…You may fall off your ladder while putting up the Christmas lights on the roof, but it’s not like there’s a sinister group, al-Laddera, plotting to wobble when you’re leaning over to put that last string up above the gutter. There’s not much the government can do to stop you from falling off a ladder, other than PSAs saying “be careful!” But there’s an awful lot the government can do to target terrorists and mitigate the threat they present.

In other words, for Geraghty, it’s legitimate to continually alarm the electorate about a very low-probability threat to their personal safety because there is at least something the government can do to minimize that threat.

For me, though, the responsible thing to do as a political leader is to calm people’s fears both so that they won’t be needlessly or disproportionately afraid and so that they don’t freak out and make unreasonable demands on their political leaders.

What’s really bad, in my opinion, is to deliberately increase people’s sense of insecurity not primarily so that they will demand policies to keep them safe but to make them more inclined to vote for you and your political party. Making people afraid for political gain is cynical and almost cruel.

So, naturally, I see it as dubious when someone like Donald Trump ramps up people’s anxieties and provides nothing solid as actual policy prescriptions. To me, that’s totally different than arguing that electing Hillary Clinton will result in a Supreme Court less inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade or energy policies less favorable to coal. You can scare and motivate people to vote based on accurate information. That’s not a political no-no, and it never has been.

But “exploiting” fears is a little different, especially when part of your pitch is to create fear when none ought to exist (“The president is a secret Muslim”) or to ramp fear up beyond any rational level, which is what the terrorism vs. wobbly ladder comparison is meant to illuminate.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 22, 2015

December 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, Politicians, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Mode Of Deception”: Carly Fiorina Abuses The Truth Just Like A Teenage Conservative Hoaxer

Comparing female politicians to petulant 13-year-old boys is generally unwise, but in Carly Fiorina’s case it is apt.

CJ Pearson, a black conservative teenager from Georgia, became a sensation on the right this year for denouncing President Barack Obama in homemade YouTube videos, two of which have now been viewed over two million times each. Pearson isn’t the first precocious conservative to become a right-wing celebrity, but he is probably the first to parlay that fame into a campaign gig, specifically as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s youth-outreach chairman.

Late last week, though, the charismatic kid was revealed as the perpetrator of a number of hoaxes, including a trumped up beef with Facebook for censoring his speech (he was 12 years old at the time, too young to run a Facebook account of his own), and engaging in a Twitter fight with a supposedly racist Obama supporter, who turned out to be Pearson’s own sockpuppet. Most recently, he staged evidence suggesting that Obama had blocked his Twitter account, and got busted by a reporter at Glenn Beck’s conservative website, The Blaze.

Rather than admit to the prank, Pearson has continued to insist that his word was good.

“[H]ere’s what the PR folks are saying: say you lied and apologize to avoid backlash,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “But, instead, I choose to stand by my word. While the article will be incriminating, all we have in politics is our word and I stand by it.”

Carly Fiorina’s mode of deception, and her response to being fact-checked, is nearly identical. The main difference, of course, is that Fiorina is a 61-year-old former corporate executive who’s a top contender to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, while Pearson is still going through puberty. The fact that so many conservatives are lining up to defend her is indicative of the degree to which conservatism has become a movement defined by affective rage and imagined victimization by mainstream forces. This toxic brew contributed to the party’s difficulty winning recent national elections. It is already poisoning the party’s campaign for the presidency in 2016.

Two weeks ago, during the second GOP primary debate, Fiorina delivered a crowd-pleasing condemnation of Planned Parenthood for, as she’d have it, delivering children alive to steal their organs and sell them for profit.

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these [Planned Parnthood] tapes,” she said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”

If the footage she described existed, people might go to jail. But it doesn’t. In fact, basically every factual claim in those two sentences is untrue. Florina’s conservative defenders, and her super PAC, have produced footage unrelated to the Planned Parenthood sting depicting a life-like fetus—but not a verifiably aborted fetus, nor a fetus delivered during a procedure conducted in a Planned Parenthood facility. Nobody performing the procedure said, “we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” either.

Fiorina’s fabricated description of the Planned Parenthood videos wasn’t issued in passing, but in a way that was calculated to dominate cable news highlight reels. She can’t admit to confusion, or to unintentionally blending unrelated footage into a single, imagined scene, because that would amount to telling her new supporters that the thing that attracted them to her wasn’t real.

So, like young CJ Pearson, she’s cooked up extremely weak post hoc defense, hoping that over time the truth and her twisted version of it will bleed together. “That scene absolutely does exist,” she said on Meet the Press this weekend, “and that voice saying what I said they were saying—’We’re gonna keep it alive to harvest its brain’—exists as well.” (It doesn’t.) But while Pearson’s reputation on the right is in free fall, many conservatives are twisting themselves into epistemological knots arguing that Fiorina’s right, even though she’s wrong. In the Los Angeles Times, the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg explained that while “the exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos … anybody who has watched the videos would find Fiorina’s account pretty accurate.”

In a way, that the wagons are circling around Fiorina helps explain why Pearson thought his own fabrications might pay off. Recent history is replete with examples of conservatives racing to defend other conservatives caught peddling stories no less fictional than Pearson’s.

James O’Keefe, a propagandist and agent provocateur with a history of selectively editing his sting footage to make the opposite of reality seem true, is a right-wing celebrity. Republicans in Congress, including Pearson’s boss, Ted Cruz, want to shut down the government over videos that everyone knows have been doctored. In 2012, conservatives dedicated themselves to the fiction that Obama had refused to call an attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi an act of terrorism, when in fact he had called it terrorism the day after it happened, in the White House Rose Garden. When Mitt Romney repeated the myth at the second presidential debate, CNN moderator Candy Crowley famously embarrassed him by interjecting to set the record straight. To this day, conservatives detest Crowley, and insist that she didn’t give Romney a fair shake by telling the truth.

As more interviewers and moderators interject to debunk Fiorina’s story about a video segment that doesn’t exist, Fiorina’s reputation among conservatives isn’t suffering. Instead, the right’s journalist shit-list is growing longer.

Pearson can be forgiven for expecting the conservative media to rush to his aid, rather than orchestrate his demise. He’s coming of age in a movement that often treats reality as subordinate to perception; that will embrace obvious distortions of facts if doing so might move the needle of public opinion, and dissemble and whine, rather than admit error, when the media gets wise. If the stakes were higher—if Pearson were a 61-year-old presidential candidate instead of a 13-year-old kid—he would be climbing in the polls today.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, September 28, 2015

September 29, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Conservatives, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“They Want To Torch Washington, Not Run It”: GOP’s Kamikaze Caucus Takes Out John Boehner

“I consider this a victory for the crazies,” said one Republican congressman who attended the meeting in which Speaker John Boehner shocked the political world by announcing his resignation.

Boehner, the consummate congressional dealmaker, faced another looming government shutdown. His abrupt decision to resign at the end of October is a sign that there are no more deals to be made with the conservative Kamikaze caucus.

The fundamentalist crew that Boehner-allied Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has called “lemmings with suicide vests” and “right-wing Marxists” has been preparing to take the country to the brink of shutdown and default again this fall over their demand to defund Planned Parenthood and refusal to raise the debt ceiling.

In the closed-door meeting, the speaker warned against a government shutdown, telling the assembled Republicans that shutting down the government was self-defeating for the GOP and the pro-life cause. But his announcement “took all the air out of the room,” the attending congressman told The Daily Beast. “No one expected it.”

Boehner is an old-school Main Street Midwestern Republican—he’s conservative, but not crazy. His insistence that governing is more important than grandstanding has made him a punching bag for presidential candidates playing to populists. Take the recent cattle call hosted by the conservative frat-boy scam that parades under the name Heritage Action. Candidate after candidate blamed Boehner for all the ills facing their party. One of the attendees, a man named Valentine Sanchez, told The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy that he wanted Boehner out “the sooner the better. We need conservatives in there.”

In fact, Boehner’s been one of the steady voices of sanity in an unhinged time for the Republican Party.  He’s been the adult in the room filled with red-faced tantrums and toddler-esque factional squabbles. And he’s been constrained from pursuing many of his true goals by trying to hold in check the Tea Partiers that got him elected speaker in 2010 as they morphed into the Troll Party, more welcoming to ultra-right absolutists than to conservative reformers.

Not only that, his longtime friends have disappeared one by one. Veteran Reps. Tom Latham, Steve Latourette, and Buck McKeon have all retired in recent years, leaving more and more him alone on the throne.

Still, he’s given as good as he’s got, calling Ted Cruz as a “jackass” for cheerleading the last shutdown and slamming Heritage Action and other members of the conservative activist class, saying, “They’re using our mem­bers and they’re using the American people for their own goals…This is ridiculous.”

As a result, Boehner’s ambition to shepherd conservative immigration reform through the House fell apart. In the spring of 2014, he noted that the immigration “problem’s been around for at least the last 15 years. It’s been turned into a political football. I think it’s unfair…I think it’s time to deal with it.”

This pronouncement was swiftly declared a “Death Warrant for Conservatism,” by the Powerline blog, while Heritage Action’s Dan Holler told The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy that Boehner’s statement was “a full-throated embrace of amnesty.” This kind of overheated exaggeration is typical of the kind of opposition Boehner faced.

Boehner’s ambition was abandoned once his deputy, Republican Majority leader Eric Cantor, was cannibalized in a primary, losing to an activist who joined in the anti-immigration reform chorus. In the closed-door meeting, Boehner referred to the upset, saying that he only intended to serve two terms as speaker but then Cantor lost. “Life changes, plans change,” Boehner explained.

The emotional impetus for his surprising decision might have been Pope Francis’s historic speech to Congress the day before, in which the progressive pontiff made a case for exactly the kind of bipartisan reasoning together that has been targeted by the Kamikaze caucus: “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.” This approach to governing has been effectively criminalized by too much of the current conservative movement. It is a firing offense.

And so Boehner decided to jump before he was pushed, tired of the prospect of another self-defeating fight with the extremists in his own party. Maybe Boehner could’ve held on as speaker—if he’d decided to depend on votes from Democrats to retain his seat. But while most of Boehner’s recent legislative successes required bipartisan coalitions, that degree of career-saving support was likely too much to ask from Nancy Pelosi & Co.

Now President Obama has witnessed the vanquishing of two conservative congressional leaders—Boehner and Cantor—who were deemed insufficiently radical by the conservative populists they first empowered.

With the Republicans still reeling under the Capitol dome, the impact of Boehner’s surprise decision and his successor is still unclear, but it does not bode well for hopes that the United States can avoid another stupidly self-inflicted shutdown. Names like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Budget Committee Paul Ryan were quickly floated as Boehner replacements—and were just as quickly shot down for being insufficient in their fealty to the crash-and-burn Kamikaze caucus.

Moments after the speaker ended his announcement by reading the Prayer of St. Francis (“where there is hatred, let me sow love”) stunned Republican congressmen saw “the crazies already huddling in the hallway.”

 

By: John Avlon, with additional reporting by Michael Daly; The Daily Beast, September 25, 2015

September 26, 2015 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Good, The Bad, And The Donald”: Just Beneath The Spectacle Is A Very Ugly Message

Donald Trump’s political rallies are, if nothing else, an event. While you wait for the Donald to appear—and even during his off-kilter and meandering talk—you can buy snacks. On Monday evening, American Airlines Center wasn’t just a venue for Trump’s next speech: It was open for business, and attendees could grab popcorn, peanuts, nachos, and plenty of beer. This was a spectacle, and the assembled embraced it. People dressed in Trump memorabilia—including one woman in a Trump-branded dress—took selfies in front of Trump signs, and cheered in anticipation of the billionaire’s arrival.

“This is actually my first rally I’ve ever been to, period,” said George Lanier, a well-built personal trainer from nearby Carrollton, Texas. “I was like—what better way to start it off than by seeing Donald Trump, you know? He’s very exciting, it’ll be very entertaining.” Lanier liked Trump’s ideas, but he was much more drawn to the candidate’s affect and style. “I love that he’s talking in everybody else’s language. He’s not trying to be politically correct—he’s just speaking to us like how we’re talking here, or how you talk to your friends.”

We associate Trump with the Republican right wing, but this wasn’t a Tea Party rally. The crowd was diverse, or at least more diverse than you might assume. Chris Nieves was a transplant from New York City who studied at Texas Christian University and came as an undecided voter, interested in Trump as a businessman who could bring jobs and opportunity to minority communities. “He’s not a politician, and I think that’s huge for us minorities, because a lot of politicians like to exploit us,” said Nieves. “I think that he’s an independent voice, and I think that would be especially good for minorities who are in need of that, because of the establishment that has failed us.”

“I wanted to see what this was all about,” explained Lawrence Badih, a real estate agent who lives in Fort Worth but was born in Sierra Leone and immigrated to the United States. “I’ve been registered Republican for a long time, and we need a change. I see Trump is rising in the polls—he’s No. 1. He’s saying things that no one else wants to say—they’re being politically correct.”

For all the Trump-curious voters, however, there were just as many Trump supporters, who were clear-eyed and enthusiastic about their candidate. “We absolutely love Donald Trump, and we are supporting him 1,000 percent,” said Marilu Rumfolo, a retired investment banker who came all the way from Spring, near Houston. Rumfolo thinks Trump will be a strong conservative on immigration. “He hit a home run with immigration,” she said. “People who just walk in and take our country by force, they really don’t have the same values. We want immigrants, but we have to make sure the law is followed.”

She also thinks Trump will be a less divisive leader than President Obama. “I don’t feel like he’s going to create that kind of animosity that we see with Black Lives Matter,” she explained. “Because honest to God, all lives matter, and it’s really an insult to see a person working 40 to 60 hours a week and be told, even if they’ve struggled their whole life, that if they’re white, ‘Your struggle doesn’t count because your skin color isn’t a certain way.’ ”

At 30 minutes after its scheduled time, the event began. An estimated 16,000 people were packed in the center waving American flags and signs for Trump. First onstage: A megachurch pastor who thanked God for Trump’s “selfless public service.” Then, a local Tea Party activist who railed against Republican leaders—citing the Mississippi Senate primary where incumbent Thad Cochran worked with Democrats to beat his challenger, Chris McDaniel—and declared her belief that, with Trump on the ballot, “2016 may be more historic than the election of Barack Obama.” (At that, the crowd went wild.) Finally, Trump sauntered on stage to whoops, hollers, and cheers.

Trump gave the usual. He gestured toward policies and issues (the Iran Deal, China, Mexico); attacked his opponents (“Jeb Bush,” he said to boos, before mentioning Hillary Clinton to even louder ones); praised himself (he was leading the polls, unlike everyone else, he didn’t need the “blood money” of rich people, and if elected president, he was going to win so much “your head will spin”); and leaned in to his anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Many of these gang members are illegal immigrants,” he said to huge cheers. “They’re rough dudes.” He complained about trade with Japan—“They send us millions of cars. Millions. We send them beef. They don’t even want it.”—and promised to make a deal that will force Mexico to “build that wall.” After more than an hour of speaking, he concluded with his slogan: “You’re going to say to your children, and you’re going to say to anybody else, that we were part of a movement to take back our country. … And we will make America great again.”

At this point, the speakers blared with “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the crowd filed outside in the glow of Trump’s unabashed nationalism. There, in the plaza outside the center, they were met by demonstrators from the League of United Latin American Citizens. Carrying Mexican and American flags, they protested Trump’s presence and his message. “No more Trump,” chanted a group of activists wearing shirts that said “Latinos Stand Up” on the front and “Fuck Donald Trump” on the back. “We want them to know we’re united,” said Maira Medina, a manager at a local restaurant who was holding an anti-Trump sign. “If this state is going to be united, we have to unite with everybody and put the hatred and derogatory terms aside.”

Most of the Trump rally’s attendees walked by without incident. But some couldn’t resist a confrontation. “Deport illegals! No more illegals!” yelled one older woman who got into a shouting match with a group of protesters. A bald, bearded young man—wearing a T-shirt with the words “Commies aren’t cool”—almost got into a fight with one of the demonstrators before police officers separated the two. And another young man—this one wearing a navy blazer, a pink patterned bow tie, and a pair of gray dress pants—was surrounded by media and bystanders as he argued with a young Mexican American man about “illegals.”

Trump is a sideshow, and in the presence of his personality, it’s easy to overlook the ugliness behind his campaign. But it’s there, a debased successor to the nationalist white resentment of Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. And although spectators may miss it, it’s more than clear for the targets of his xenophobia, and the people who hate them.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 15, 2015

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Minorities, Trumpeteers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Defiance Of The Right-Wing Opposition”: Iran Debate; Clinton Steps Up To Oppose The Demagogues

When Sarah Palin joins Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and a motley crew of crazies in Washington this week to rally against the Iran nuclear deal, the speeches are likely to reflect the incoherence of the opposition. None of these right-wing celebrities appears to comprehend its terms, how it was negotiated or – most important – why its failure would probably lead to yet another horrific war.

On that same day, as Cruz, Trump, and Palin blather on about their love of Israel, their hatred for Barack Obama, and their determination to “make America great again,” someone else will step up to support the agreement – someone whose diplomatic efforts laid the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran.

That would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former Secretary of State and leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Scheduling a major speech on the Iran deal for the same day as the Washington event, Clinton is plainly determined to display her mastery of its details as well as her defiance of the right-wing opposition.

But this speech — which could become one of the best moments in public life — will also prove just how far she has come since the last time she ran for president.

That’s because Iran was the subject of one of the most troubling moments in her 2008 campaign, when she promised to “totally obliterate” that country (and presumably its 70 million-plus population) if the mullahs ever attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon. Having uttered that genocidal threat in response to a provocative question, she reiterated the same bluster a few days later on ABC News’ This Week.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran [if they attack Israel with nuclear weapons]. And I want them to understand that. … I think we have to be very clear about what we would do,” she told host George Stephanopoulos.

At the time, in early May 2008, it wasn’t clear why the Iranians needed to “understand” any such ultimatum, since our own intelligence showed that they neither had nuclear weapons nor were likely to possess such weapons any time soon – and that the Israeli military was (and is) fully capable of nuclear retaliation. Clinton’s harsh rhetoric seemed to be aimed more directly at Obama, her primary opponent, whose aim of negotiating with traditional enemies like Tehran she had denounced as “naïve.”

Those who expected better from her pointed to her Mideast advisors, who advocated an opening to Iran, and to her own previous remarks about the imperative of talking with “bad people” as a sign of strength, not weakness. But at that moment, she seemed to echo John McCain and the “bomb Iran” chorus among the Republicans.

Much has changed since 2008, of course – including the leadership of the Iranian government. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the aggressive Holocaust denier who held the Iranian presidency back then, gave way in 2013 to Hassan Rouhani, a reformer who wants to end his country’s international isolation. Thanks in part to Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, a powerful and unprecedented international alliance enforced real sanctions that finally pushed Iran into serious negotiations. And since those negotiations began, Rouhani’s government has heeded the required limitations on its nuclear activities.

Perhaps Clinton hasn’t changed. After all, she has always believed that diplomacy, aid, and other aspects of American power are just as fundamental to our security as military force. But she has found a balance and a voice that are more vital than ever in a contest against irresponsible politicians, whose demagogy points us again toward war.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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