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If you’ve been watching Glenn Beck much lately – something I generally try to avoid, but I inevitably see clips on Countdown, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and/or just about every blog on the liberal side of the blogosphere – you know that the man has been bandying about terms like “Nazi” and “fascist” and “Hitler” pretty freely in connection with progressives generally and President Obama in particular.
Not that President Obama is particularly progressive, but that’s another rant for another time.
Anyway, Beck has been engaged in a lot of ranting and raving and name calling, including some odd combos like “communist fascists,” which apparently is what happens when someone moves so far to the left end of the political spectrum that they end up back around at the extreme end of the right side of the spectrum.
Apparently no one’s ever explained Godwin’s Law to Mr. Beck.
Now, just yesterday, I ran across the following photo from the Washington Post (h/t @chrislhayes, link takes you to the original photo in context):
I ask you, who does this photo remind you of?
Here’s a hint. Change the flag behind him with another historical flag. One from, say, Germany. Late 1930s – mid 1940s era.
Seriously, dude. Glass houses. Pot. Kettle.
Mind, I’m not calling Glenn Beck a Nazi. Because, hey, I am familiar with Godwin’s Law.*
I’m just saying that, well, if there was a photo of me looking like this floating around on teh internets, I’d really want to avoid mentioning the H-word. Or the F-word. Um, fascist, that is, not the other F-word (which I manifestly have no problem with using when the occasion seems to call for it).
Just a thought.
* I will concede that there comes a point where the comparison to fascism as a system of government may be appropriate, despite the emotional valence of the term. I drafted a couple of posts for this blog during the Bush administration where I speculated about where we as a nation were along the slippery slope leading to fascism, though I don’t remember if I actually posted any of them. I was not alone in speculating about this – see for instance Joe Conason’s It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush.
NB: I start this post off with a fairly long and rambling recollection of my memories of 9/11/2001. If you don’t want to read this (and I won’t fault you if you don’t), please consider scrolling down to the asterisks, where I actually start talking about political stuff that may interest my regular readers. -jd
It was an awful day, a day I and many – most – others wandered through in a sort of state of shock.
I was living in California at the time, still working as a lawyer. The first plane hit one of the towers just before my alarm clock went off that morning, The drive-time DJs chattered on as usual about nonsensical matters I can mercifully no longer remember, unaware of the unfolding tragedy until the woman who gave the traffic reports joined them on the air a few minutes later and told them to turn on a TV if they had one in the studio.
I turned my own TV on immediately, and thus had the dubious honor of watching the second plane hit the other tower as it was happening.
I stumbled around my apartment that morning, somehow getting ready for work, largely on autopilot, in shock. My brother called from Colorado. Was I planning on going to the office? Yes, I said. I had a meeting scheduled about a contract I was working on, I had to at least go in to see if it was still happening.
I was a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t supposed to react to emotional events the way other humans do, because lawyers aren’t supposed to be human, to suffer human weaknesses. I never got my emotional circuits disconnected (nor do most lawyers), but I often felt like I was obligated by my status to act as if I had – like many other lawyers did that day.
My brother was worried, because I worked in a tall building. Not the tallest in the city I was living in at the time, not by a long shot, but it was a crazy day, and no one was thinking logically. I certainly wasn’t. The biggest mass murder in our country’s history and I was putting on a suit and acting like I could ride out a day at the office.
It was a ridiculous notion, of course, but the truth is, I didn’t know what else to do. I lived alone, and had only recently moved to this city, so I didn’t have any close friends close by. My family was half a continent away. Practically the only people I knew locally were my co-workers. I think that’s the real reason why I went to work – I didn’t want to be alone on that horrible day, watching the news coverage by myself.
Probably only about a third of our staff showed up for work that day, mostly people with urgent meetings or people who like me didn’t think they were allowed (by whatever entity it is that allows these things) to take the day off. No work actually happened, at least as far as I saw. We congregated in a conference room where the head of our department had set up a television. Someone brought in a tray of bagels and a thermos full of coffee, which were largely ignored by everyone present. As if we could have eaten on that day.
We were all mentally or literally going through our rolodexes, trying to figure out if anyone we knew was likely to have been in one of the towers. I was one of the lucky ones – no one I knew, at least that I could think of at the moment, was likely to have been in either of the towers that day, though I did know several people who worked in one of the buildings across the street from the towers.
A co-worker – one of the ones who did not show up at the office that day – was not so lucky. Her mentor from a firm she had worked for earlier in her legal career was at a breakfast meeting in the restaurant that was on the top floor of one of the towers. He was among the missing.
We sat in the conference room, speaking in low voices, watching the scraps of news as they came in. Praying silently for the safety of people that we knew. Praying for all the people we didn’t know – the missing, and the people who would be missing them.
Every now and then, someone’s cell phone would ring, and the phone’s owner would walk quickly out into the hallway outside the conference room to take the call away from the rest of us. Sometimes, the news was good – someone they knew had received confirmation that someone else they knew was okay, was safe at home, was out of town, had taken a later flight, was not among the missing. Sometimes the news was less good – there were lots of reports of unanswered calls to mobile phones, or reaching answering machines at the homes of friends, or of not being able to get through to New York numbers at all.
By noon, I had had enough of pretending to work. I walked home from my office, got out of my lawyer costume and into comfy sweats, and started calling every single friend and family member I could, all over the country, trying to make sure that people were okay, trying to reassure myself that the world was not ending. And by and large, the news from my circle of friends and acquaintances was good.
There were some near-misses, though. A family friend who works in investment management and retirement planning was supposed to be flying from the west coast to New York to meet with some people from Cantor Fitzgerald that evening. His flight was canceled before it had a chance to board. The people he was scheduled to meet with were all among the missing. Another friend was a regular on one of the flights from Boston to LA that was hijacked. In other weeks he might have been on the plane, but something had caused his schedule to change that week.
The day passed slowly, with information trickling out in small bits between the endless replaying of the videos of the second crash and of each tower collapsing. Wild rumors circulated, and were duly reported by the media, albeit with strong caveats that they were unconfirmed rumors, because actual information was scarce.
It quickly became too painful to listen to the reporters, so I muted the television and started going through my CD collection, looking for music that might bring some comfort. John Lennon’s Imagine destroyed me – I listened to it twice, and cried for the lives lost. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was very cathartic, as well. I tried listening to Beethoven’s third symphony, Eroica – my favorite of the nine – but quickly abandoned it as inappropriate to the mood of the day. Ditto a Mozart concerto. I finally settled on the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions with the volume turned down low. The entire album has a very mournful sound to it, sad and soothing, something that could be listened to without fear of offending the souls of those who lost their lives that day.
As night fell, I lit candles in my apartment, in the spirit of hope that more who were currently listed as “missing” would turn up alive and well. I brewed chamomile tea, which I sweetened with too much honey and sat on my bed staring at the TV, half-listening to the Cowboy Junkies, and wondering vaguely what could possibly drive people to fly airplanes into buildings.
At some point, I fell asleep, lights still on, music still playing, TV still flashing endless loops of planes crashing and towers falling.
A new day dawned, and the entire world had changed.
* * *
You may wonder why I’m writing about all this. My story of that day seven years ago is not dramatic, and it’s not as if anyone who was alive and aware of the world around them at the time of the attacks couldn’t tell a similar tale.
In truth, it is not what I had intended to write about when I sat down at my computer. But these were the words that came out, and I let them, because I feel it is appropriate to honor the memory of that day, as horrible as it was, and to honor the lives lost there – particularly the sacrifice by those who were trying to rescue others caught in the inferno of the towers before they fell, and the lives of the people on flight 93, who, having heard what happened with the other hijacked planes, fought back against their hijackers and prevented their plane from being used as a fourth weapon of horror at the cost of their own lives. Likewise, it is appropriate to honor the suffering of all those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11th.
Moments of silence, flags flown at half mast, prayers and religious services are all appropriate tributes to the losses suffered on that horrible day. Likewise the haunting sounds of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes or a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful.
These are the things that civilized people do when faced with such a tragedy.
What civilized people do not do, is to use the memory of that horrible day and the lives lost on it to score political points.
Yet today, we are seeing exactly that from the Republican party.
Last week, they showed that appalling 9/11 “tribute” video as part of the run-up to John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The video was apparently sprung on the cable news networks covering the convention without warning, and without the opportunity to screen it prior to its airing.
It was graphic and jingoistic, and it was clearly designed not to honor the memory of the lives lost or the heroic efforts of those who worked feverishly to rescue people from the rubble of the collapsed towers, but rather to inflame the worst aspects of the American public’s memory of that horrible day.
Worse still, it attempted to tie the attacks to Iran – a nation that had no part in planning the attacks – and to reinforce the idea that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were also somehow involved in their orchestration, despite no evidence to support this notion and massive evidence to the contrary. But tying Iran and Iraq to 9/11 serves the political agenda of certain people in the upper echelons of the Republican party (and, let us not forget, the agenda of the corporate interests and radical religious groups supporting certain GOP candidates).
Minutes after it aired, Keith Olbermann was apologizing to MSNBC viewers for the inappropriate nature of that video. And last night, he rightly castigated the Republican party leadership for the showing of the video in one of his excellent special comments.
Unfortunately, it seems we can expect many more actions of this nature from certain groups backing McCain and the Moose Killer over the next few months.
According to Denise Dennis, writing at the Huffington Post:
This past Sunday, in presidential-election swing states across the country, the New York Times came bundled with a dvd of the documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a controversial film on the threat Islamic terrorism. The documentary is set for release to retail outlets this week — the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — but has been shown at college campuses for nearly a year now, presented largely by Jewish student organizations and as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the national “conservative campus protest” organized and sponsored last fall by conservative author David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.
As it happens, I find myself in possession of a copy of this DVD. I did not buy it, though it lists a manufacturer’s recommended price on the front cover. Apparently, someone thinks it is worth $19.95, though I would disagree with that appraisal.
The copy I have was pressed into my hands by an earnest-looking young woman on a Denver street corner two weeks ago during the Democratic convention. She said something about it being about the distinction between peace-seeking Muslims and terrorists. I thanked her for it and shoved it in my bookbag without much thought or attention at the time. It remained in a stack with all the other political literature and similar offerings that I picked up as I wandered around the convention venue until last night, when I saw Ms. Dennis’s story on Huffington Post and the movie’s title rang a bell in my memory.
I have now watched the first forty minutes of the one hour video. That was enough.
More than enough, actually.
It is a piece of propaganda, plain and simple. Like the 9/11 “tribute” video from the RNC, it is designed to reawaken the public’s fear off terrorism. It displays graphic images of people injured in terrorist attacks. It shows maps with ominous x’s at the locations of various events. And it shows clips of various men in Muslim attire, with subtitles full of scary threats against the west, and particularly against America.
The video purports to distinguish between most followers of Islam, who are as horrified by the terrorist tactics used by al-Qaeda as the rest of us, and the radical Islamists who actually support or engage in terrorist acts. In reality, what it does is paint the Muslim religion as a threatening “other”, both opposed and a threat to “our way of life.” It blatantly states that Muslim people will say one thing when non-Muslims are present, and another thing when only believers are present – thus, by implication, no Muslim person can be trusted, because you can’t tell the radicals from the non-violent majority.
Someone has obviously spent a lot of money to make sure this DVD is widely circulated in swing states. The copy I have was presented in the standard DVD case, with a cover that looks like it was designed professionally like any other commercial DVD. I would assume the same can be said of the copies that were sent to the New York Times subscribers. According to the above-cited Dennis piece, the DVD “was bundled into newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia.” Make no mistake. The distribution of this piece of political propaganda cost a fair chunk of change.
Why would someone go to this incredible expense?
It all comes back to fear, and to terror management theory.
As I have noted previously in this space, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism have been shown to influence opinions expressed by voters on a variety of political issues, and on average to sway those opinions in the conservative direction.
The stronger the reminder about the threat, the greater the number of voters likely to be swayed by such tactics.
Certain Republicans want to set up Muslim citizens as the “other” in society, to be hated and feared, because it will give mainstream voters a visible threat to fear.
They are using graphic reminders of the attacks that occurred on this day seven years ago and the lives that were lost on that day as a means to accomplish this end.
They are doing it shamelessly and without apology.
There is a word for this sort of political tactic.
It is obscene.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, obscene means “objectionable or offensive to accepted standards of decency.” It then goes on to further define the term in primarily sexual contexts, which is how that term is usually interpreted in the legal arena. But the first sentence of the definition certainly applies to this tactic, so I will use the term obscene to describe it.
The people who lost their lives seven years ago today deserve better treatment than to have their deaths turned into a political tool. The people who lost friends and loved ones seven years ago deserve better. The American public deserves better.
And yet, as appalling as it is, there are politicians, corporations, and religious groups who are foisting this obscenity onto the American public, and who will continue to do so between now and November, all for the sake of winning a presidential election – an election which they in no way deserve to win after the horrible catastrofuck resulting from the past eight years of Republican “leadership.”
I cannot begin to describe how angry this makes me.
Mere words cannot suffice. I could paint you a picture, but I don’t think I have enough cadmium red or alizarin crimson – indeed, there may not be enough of either pigment in the world to convey my anger about the cynical use of our memories of 9/11 as a means to a political end by people who want to see John McCain elected in November.
Instead, I will leave you with this. It’s another Roy Zimmerman song, about someone else who tried to use 9/11 in a semi-political, semi-religious context:
…for calling the Republicans on the appalling use of that 9/11 “tribute” for political purposes. –jd
As I wandered through downtown Denver, I saw a fair number of people who I recognized. I was initially parked quite near the MSNBC base of operations, so that’s where I saw most of these folks: my hero, Keith Olbermann; Chris Matthews; David Gregory; and the previously mentioned Richard Wolffe. Sadly, I did not get pictures of any of these gentlemen, or at least none worth posting. Matthews and Gregory were both up on the MSNBC stage (for want of a better term) where they were broadcasting from. Wolffe was standing on the street, talking to someone on his cellphone, so I felt it would be rude to take a picture of him. And Olbermann walked by so fast that I didn’t even realize it was him until he was too far behind me to get a shot of anything but his backside, which, let’s face it, is not really what we watch him for. (Sorry, Keith. We’d rather see your face.)
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to my favorite sighting of the day. As I was walking down 16th Street, I saw a guy who looked like Roy Zimmerman, a singer/satirist I have mentioned in this blog previously, and a big favorite of mine. (His songs are mostly political and social satire, and he has a real gift for a clever turn of phrase. I’ve downloaded several of his CDs from his website, and I listen to them frequently when I need to find the humor in the things that make me want to tear my hair out. I encourage you to check out his music.)
I looked a little closer and realized that it was, in fact, Roy Zimmerman.
Having realized this, I nevertheless asked the boneheaded question: “Excuse me, but aren’t you Roy Zimmerman?”
He confirmed that in fact he was.
Now, a smart blogger would have asked him for an interview. But I am new to this whole interacting-with-others-in-connection-with-my-blog thing, so that didn’t occur to me until after we had both gone our separate ways.
However, I did have a nice, if brief, chat with him. He seemed pleased to have someone recognize him, and gave me a copy of his latest CD, Thanks for the Support. I’ve been listening to it as I write this, and, like his previous albums, this one is quite good and very timely (sample song titles: Superdelegate, Eine Kleine Barackmusick, The Man, the Myth, the McCain (“He’s a bedrock conservative who actually lived in Bedrock”), and I Approve This Message). Plus, he manages to come up with a rhyme for “uterus” the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Tom Lehrer rhymed Oedipus with platypus. Here’s the title song off the album for your entertainment:
Okay, listening to the MSNBC coverage of the speech. And Olbermann starts out with calling Bush on distortions and outright lies about terrorist plots the government has allegedly stopped. Also compares Bush’s words about Iran with the stuff he was saying in the run-up to the war with Iraq — which, as we know, turned out to be almost entirely false or inaccurate. Thank you, Keith!
– jane doe
Yes, the Democratic presidential candidates are debating again tonight. I’ve lost count as to how many times they’ve done this. Keith Olbermann pointed out this evening that it really kind of depends on how you define “debate” — which is probably all you really need to know about how many of these things there have been, now that I think about it.
I will not be liveblogging. I started to, but I got sick of listening to Hillary. Not that I blame her. In their first responses to questions, Edwards and Obama went after her, and she defended herself. The third question was directly to her, and by then her voice had become sharp enough that I had to hit the mute button to hear myself think. She’s making good points (though so were Edwards and Obama), but her tone of voice was bugging me.
I am recording the debate, however, so I can fast forward through it later and pretend I am doing my civic duty. If anything particularly noteworthy strikes me, I will post about it.
Until then, allow me to reiterate that I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.
I’ve said it before, and I say it again. Keith Olbermann is a god. Once again tonight he hit one out of the park with one of his special comments.
Keith was reacting to two things in this special comment: (a) the alleged president’s recent surprise trip to Iraq, during which he admitted to now being willing to (and I swear that I am not making this up) “speculate on the hypothetical” of removing some (not all, just some) of our troops from Iraq, and (b) this article in the New York Times (h/t to Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars) which includes excerpts from a Dead Certain, a new book by biographer Robert Draper, who managed to get half a dozen one-on-one interviews with the chimp in chief by casting the book he was writing as essentially the first draft of how history would interpret Bush’s legacy.
I have not read the book yet (just ordered it from Amazon — I’ll post a review later), but judging from some of the excerpts in the Times article, Bush is every bit as appalling in person in unguarded moments as I had previously suspected. Speaking about the ongoing debate about troop levels in Iraq, he actually told the biographer, “I’m playing for October-November…To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.” Playing, as if this were some sort of game and not hundreds of soldiers and civilians dying and suffering life-altering trauma.
Keith did an admirable job of ripping Bush a new one this evening, as he has so often with his special comments in the past. Tonight’s was particularly scathing. Crooks and Liars already has the video posted. Here are a few particularly choice remarks, transcribed as always by yours truly:
“And so he is back from his annual surprise gratuitous photo op in Iraq, and what a sorry spectacle it was. But it was nothing compared to the spectacle of one unfiltered, unguarded, horrifying quotation in the new biography to which Mr. Bush has consented.”
* * *
“And there it is, sir, we’ve caught you. Your goal is not to bring some troops home, maybe, if we let you have your way now. Your goal is not to set the stage for eventual withdrawal. You are, to use your own disrespectful, tone-deaf word, playing at getting the next Republican nominee to agree to jump into this bottomless pit with you, and take us into it with him, as we stay in Iraq for another year, and another, and anon.”
* * *
“Everything you said about Iraq yesterday, and everything you will say, is a deception for the purpose of this one cynical, unacceptable, brutal goal: perpetuating this war indefinitely. War today, war tomorrow, war forever! And you are playing at it. Playing! A man with any self-respect, having inadvertently revealed such an evil secret would have already resigned and fled the country. You have no remaining credibility about Iraq, sir.”
* * *
“Just over five hundred days remain in this presidency. Consider the dead who have piled up on the battlefield in the last five hundred days.
“Consider the singular fraudulence of this president’s trip to Iraq yesterday, and the singular fraudulence of the selling of the
PetreusPetraeus report in these last five hundred days.
“Consider how this president has torn away at the fabric of this nation, in a manner of which terrorists can only dream in these last five hundred days.
“And consider again how this president has spoken to that biographer, that he is playing for October-November, that the goal in Iraq is, to get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence. And consider how this revelation contradicts every other rationale he has offered in these last five hundred days.
“In the context of all that, now consider these next five hundred days.
“Mr. Bush, our presence in Iraq must end. Even if it means your resignation. Even if it means your impeachment. Even if it means a different Republican to serve out your term. Even if it means a Democratic Congress, and those true patriots among the Republicans, standing up and denying you another penny for Iraq, other than for the safety and safe conduct home of our troops. This country cannot run the risk of what you can still do to this country in the next five hundred days, not while you, sir, are playing.”
Keith already said it, but just so there’s no doubt, allow me to state once again that I truly believe, based upon all the evidence to date of their various high crimes and misdemeanors against this country, that both Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.
Addendum: There is a nifty extension that puts a countdown clock reflecting the number of days left in the Bush presidency (barring impeachment) right in that little status bar at the bottom of the browser window. It’s reassuring to see that number go down each day, I can tell you, though it is distressing to think how much more trouble Bush might cause in the time he has left in office. You can download the extension here.
…yet somehow not at all surprising. Our alleged president has decided that Scooter Libby’s sentence — which was in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines for the crime he was convicted of — was “excessive”, and has therefore commuted his prison sentence. Libby will still have to pay a fine, but he got a Get Out of Jail Almost Free card today.
Was Bush within his rights as president to exercise his power in this manner? Absolutely. Was it an appropriate exercise of his power? Not on your life.
But I suppose at this point he feels he has nothing left to lose. He’s already lost the support of most of the electorate, as well as the respect of most of the people who are still backing him, I would imagine.
Is the commutation of Libby’s sentence grounds for impeachment? Sadly, no. However, that does not change my belief that Bush and Cheney should be impeached.
P.S. Keith Olbermann announced that he will be doing one of his “Special Comments” on the commutation of Libby’s sentence tomorrow night on Countdown, so be sure to set your TiVo.
In my previous post, I outlined some of the principles of terror management theory, and described the theory’s implications for American politics. But despite the length of my post, I left out one very important point that I really wanted to emphasize.
You see, I am aware of anecdotal evidence that awareness of terror management theory can actually change individuals’ reactions to those lovely death primes the research relies on. Certainly, I have found that my own awareness of the theory has changed the way I watch the news, and in particular it has changed the weight I give to various political assertions by members of the current administration.
But I am not drawing solely on my own experience in making this assertion, even though I am unaware of any published study that would support it. Rather, I am relying in part on unpublished whisperings among the graduate students at one of the academic institutions where much of the research into terror management theory has been conducted.
First, you must understand that much of the research in this field (as is the case with nearly all psychological research) is performed on undergraduate college students, usually those enrolled in undergraduate psychology courses. There is a very good reason for this, of course: undergraduates are a convenient research population, and they will usually participate without pay in exchange for a few extra credit points in their psych classes.
On at least one of the campuses where much of the research into terror management theory takes place, the graduate students who collected the data complained that they had gotten reputations among the current crop undergraduate psychology majors for always working on terror management studies, and the students participating in the studies would be looking for the death primes as soon as they saw the graduate students conducting the research. Suddenly, the researchers had trouble getting statistically significant results, even in cases where all previous research suggested that the present study should produce such results. In other words, awareness of terror management theory at least partially nullified the effect of the death prime. As a result of this, the grad students had to start going to other college campuses in the area to seek research participants.
It is for this reason that I have devoted so much time researching and writing my post on the politics of terror management. (Though the post ostensibly responds to Olbermann’s recent piece on the nexus of politics and terror, I have actually been working on it for some time and only made the changes that address his piece in the last two days.) I hope that my post on the subject, and a few others I have planned, will spark a discussion of terror management theory in the blogosphere, and that that discussion will eventually reach the mainstream media. It is my hope that, by increasing voter awareness of terror management theory and its implications, the ability of politicians to manipulate those voters with fear will be reduced.
Please note that I am not claiming there is no reason for us to be concerned about future terrorist attacks. The events of 9/11 made it plain that we are vulnerable to attacks on American soil, and it is appropriate for our government to devote significant resources to preventing future attacks. My point (and hope) is that voters should be able to make their decisions about which candidate(s) would be best to lead our country into a post-Bush future and undo the damage he has done to our country and our standing in the world arena free of the sort of emotional manipulation that we have been subject to in the recent past. Knowledge is power, and in the present instant, knowledge of terror management theory confers the power to resist manipulation by those who hope to use the theory to manipulate us with fear tactics.
And furthermore, I believe that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.