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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Purple is orange

Just now, I read three stories which merged into one.

1. John Kerry claims -- correctly -- that Barack Obama is being swiftboated exactly as Kerry was in 2004, and often by the same people. (Jerome Corsi being but the most obvious example). One does not have to admire Obama -- as I do not -- to concede this obvious point.
Kerry points to a $3 million dollar donation to a pro-Romney super PAC by Houston construction magnate Bob Perry as the next round in an outside effort against Obama.

"One man. Three million dollars. And that's just the start," Kerry writes.
Kerry rarely ticks me off, but he comes close to doing so here:
"I know all too clearly that these guys will do or say anything to win. They'll stop at nothing. But forewarned is forearmed. Their multi-million dollar smear tactics were new in 2004; in 2012 we know their playbook, and shame on us if we don't tear it into shreds.
New? The Clinton years should have provided clues aplenty. Kerry knew what he faced in 2004. He predicted what would happen during his convention speech. Forewarned was hapless.

2. A white supremacist has hacked into Trayvon Martin's email account and found material which the right is now using to smear a dead teenager.
The messages were posted on four slides, strategically arranged to back up the insane racist argument that Trayvon was a Scary Black Teenager and so somehow deserved to be killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman that night.
It's impossible to verify the hacked messages' authenticity—like other anti-Trayvon Martin propaganda, they're probably a mix of real and fake content...
3. On Obamacare, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post describes how the Obama administration went into the fight genuinely believing that the Supreme Court would play fair and argue rationally.
...former Reagan Solicitor General Charles Fried was scaldingly critical of the willingness of the conservative bloc of Supreme Court justices to traffic in some of the most well-worn Tea Party tropes about Obamacare.

“I was appalled to see that at least a couple of them were repeating the most tendentious of the Tea Party type arguments,” Fried said. “I even heard about broccoli. The whole broccoli argument is beneath contempt. To hear it come from the bench was depressing.”
The right-wing response to this (and it is odd to see Fried no longer classified as being part of the right) appeared in the New York Post:
They’re so convinced of their own correctness — and so determined to believe conservatives are either a) corrupt, b) stupid or c) deluded — that they find themselves repeatedly astonished to discover conservatives are in fact capable of a) advancing and defending their own powerful arguments, b) effectively countering weak liberal arguments and c) exposing the soft underbelly of liberal self-satisfaction as they do so.
I think we can safely dismiss much of this, but the important point is the phrase "advancing and defending their own powerful arguments." As we know, those arguments came from tea partiers and Koch-funded libertarian institutes.

Now let's put it all together. Again and again, we see normal people befuddled by the alternative media universe created by the right and far right.

(Side note: What's the difference, these days, between the right and the far right? Near as I can tell, the only important distinction is that the far right openly embraces racism. On all other issues, the "extremists" are indistinguishable from conservatives of other stripes.)

There is no easy way to combat a well-funded lie machine -- especially when the people who program that machine believe their own lies.

This is the great lesson of Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery.

(Great novel. I should do a full review of it. While reading it, I could almost hear Professor Eco say: "Hey, Joseph -- hope you enjoy your book. I wrote it for you. There aren't many other people out there who still care about guys like Gougenot des Mousseaux.")

In Eco's book -- a work of fiction which really isn't so very fictional -- a band of schemers while away the 19th century creating an alternate reality. Their primary tactic is the creation of false documents, which gain widespread acceptance and have serious political consequences.

Eco repeatedly emphasizes one point: The people who create these fakes believe in their own falsehoods. Time and again, they pull the wool over their own eyes. Everything they do is monstrous, yet, in a sense, their work is not disingenuous.

Eco wrote his book, I think, because the intellectual (or anti-intellectual) heirs of his merry band of villains are very busy today. They have money -- immeasurable amounts of money. The audacity of their lies must not blind us to one key fact: They believe what they are saying. They meet in secret and agree on a course of action: "So, gentlemen, let us mount a campaign designed to convince the public that purple is orange" -- and then they really, really believe that purple is orange.
Eco's Foucalt's Pendulum has a similar plot element. A vanity press operation receives many conspiracy theory fictional manuscripts across the transom, decides to randomly meld them in a published work. Suddenly employees are killed, as fanatics take the work to be true and assert THEY are the LEADERS of this synthetically authored illuminati-styled secret society. What's more, at the ceremonial denouement, they exhibit transmogrification signs of shape-shifting demonic possession or something (yikes!), despite the story they rely on being a fictional pastiche.

In a piece a few months back, David Frum discussed the alternate world the right lives in. While saying the left's view of secretive billionaire cynics trumping up known false tales was not so, he admitted their presence and political activities, but asserted they themselves are believing their side's fables and lies.

Falsehoods sincerely believed in may result in results similar to results that would occur if they were actually true.

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