I returned from a recent trip to a few favorite places feeling a slight sense of optimism about the state of the nation. I considered taking two aspirins and going to bed, but chose instead a better antidote: I read the letters to the editor and op-ed pieces in the local paper.
There is no better place to gain appreciation of the appalling collective ignorance of Americans. Here you find, repeated as Holy Writ, the craziest of the utterings of the familiar right-wing loonies -- people who still believe there are WMDs in Iraq (they're just very well hidden), Democrats in Washington mean to create death panels to kill grandma, and legislation to clean up our air and water is just a thinly-disguised plot to raise our taxes and use the money to provide abortions for wanton harlots who are in the country illegally.
Our congressman, a nominal Democrat who campaigned as a champion of health care for all and women's right to make their own decisions about reproductive health, won high praise from many letter-writers for voting for the anti-abortion amendment to the House health care bill, then voting against the bill itself. "I was voting for what my constituents wanted," he explained.
Translation: All the screaming about death panels, socialized medicine, exorbitant taxes and denial of choice -- lies, every one -- worked.
Blatant lies and distortions succeed as a political tactic only when the audience to whom they are directed is stupid enough to accept them on face value.
Thus do the carefully contrived "talking points" of the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Claremont Institute, the Middle East Forum, Accuracy in Media, and the National Association of Scholars, and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture -- right wing-funded propaganda institutes all -- turn up as Vox Populi in the pages of our local rag.
To quote Lewis Lapham:
"The quickening construction of Santa's workshops outside the walls of government and the academy resulted in the increased production of pamphlets, histories, monographs and background briefings intended to bring about the ruin of the liberal idea in all its institutionalized forms - the demonization of the liberal press, the disparagement of liberal sentiment, the destruction of liberal education - and by the time Ronald Reagan arrived in triumph at the White House in 1980 the assembly lines were operating at full capacity."
Or Gore Vidal:
"Does anyone care what Americans think? They're the worst-educated people in the First World. They don't have any thoughts, they have emotional responses, which good advertisers know how to provoke."
And the fools don't even realize they're being used.