And Soon the Conservative Propaganda Machine Will be Revealed for What it Is
We just received our first Obamacare notices at the school where I teach. One memo informed me that current policies offered by my employer already meet and exceed the ACA requirements and the other filled me in on the health care Marketplace. In reading these memos, I couldn’t help but wonder how some of my Tea Party friends would respond to this information. There was no mention of a government run health plan that our Congressmen and President refuse to participate in (um…they already have a government run health plan). There was no mention of death panels. Nothing to indicate that we could not choose our own doctors. Indeed, the memos read just like, well, memos. They were totally innocuous.
Yet the right is desperate to kill Obamacare, willing to do anything, including defaulting on our debt obligations, to make sure that it never gets off the ground. This desperation is exemplified by Ted Cruz’s full throttled, ego-stroking, pseudo-filibuster in which he compared letting the Affordable Care Act stand to appeasing Hitler. (Yes, he went full Godwin’s Law). You know, Ted, I looked all through my memos and couldn’t find a single thing about invading Poland or blaming the Treaty of Versailles for our exorbitant health care costs.
That’s just the point, of course. Soon the whole country will start getting memos like the ones my colleagues and I received. Soon, people all over the country will visit HealthCare.gov or state supported exchanges and the truth will be revealed. Premiums will not skyrocket. The government will not intervene in individual health concerns. Yes, they will almost certainly experience setbacks, bureaucratic red tape, snags and glitches, and policies they don’t care for. Indeed, many will bristle at the fact that they were mandated to purchase insurance; who wants to be mandated to do anything? People may not be ecstatic about what they see, after all, buying insurance is never a fulfilling experience, but they will certainly stop being afraid. Once the fear is gone, the right has nothing.
So, in a way, the efforts of Ted Cruz and his FreedomWorks, Tea Party, Koch addicted minions isn’t so much about killing the Affordable Care Act beast before it hatches as it is a desperate attempt to keep the fear alive. If it turns out Obamacare isn’t the dystopian nightmare predicted by the right, then what about all the other apocalyptic signs prognosticated by the neo-cons?
Maybe, just maybe, Weimar level inflation isn’t going to happen as a result of the Stimulus.
Maybe Mexicans aren’t re-invading the United States.
Maybe all Arabs or Arabish people aren’t terrorists out to destroy America.
Maybe there isn’t a secret cabal of neo-fascist, socialist environmentalists allied with every scientist on Earth to trick us into believing in global warming so they can somehow, mysteriously institute their New World Order.
Maybe Obama really isn’t a Marxist Muslim radical. He may even be American.
Maybe there really isn’t a war on Christmas.
I realize that my comments above are snide. Intentionally so. My active involvement in the healthcare debate of 2009-2010 was an eye-opener in the nature of conservative paradigms. Before the healthcare debate I was naïve. I believed that the differences between the right and the left were sincere variations on how we understood the world and the nature of government. Perhaps, occasionally, the rhetoric got out of control. Certainly each side used slanted data and slippery slope arguments to advance their worldview. I saw the debate as an over-all honest competition of paradigms in which the truth would, ultimately, win out.
Then the health-care debate.
As an active participant in the health-care debate I had the good fortune of not being an expert in health policy or insurance. I only knew that my insurance was becoming more and more expensive and offering fewer and fewer benefits. Something had to be done. My research led me to understand that a market model was not an effective means of providing health care to everyone in society. It was my belief that access to health care was a right that could not be understood as a commodity. After all, it is in the market interest of the insurer to not pay for services, yet the interest of the provider to charge as much as was possible for services, while the beneficiary wanted only to stay healthy and could be coerced into paying just about any price. The exchange was too complex and lopsided for a market system. My research indicated that a single payer model was the most optimal. Granted, I knew it wasn’t a flawless model, but it was certainly an improvement over what we had. So when President Obama ran with the public option as the centerpiece of his health care reform, a claim which he has since denied, I was on board. Implementing a single payer system would have been impossible in that political climate, and would perhaps even be detrimentally destabilizing if done too quickly. A public option, however, would allow for a slow transition to a single payer system. In that vein I started an ad hoc group called Fight for Healthcare.
Clearly, we lost.
During this time, however, I was witness to the worst abuses against the rational discourse I had ever seen. Previously I’d been involved in the peace movement and human rights. Yes, people disagreed with my approach if not my vision, but the rhetorical combat over health care was unique to my experience. In arguments over war and peace it is not unusual to hear arguments about an evil enemy constituting a danger to our freedom and way of life if we do not drop lots of bombs on them. Yet in the healthcare debate, the enemy became those of us suggesting that health care was a common good of which our public institutions have a vested interest in securing. We were the enemies of freedom and the right came out swinging. I was willing to accept that I may have been wrong about a single payer system, but I was reasonably sure I wasn’t an enemy of freedom. The debate…well, there was no debate. There was only a rhetorical onslaught of utter nonsense from which we on the left could not recover.
I must admit that we on the left spent most of our time on the ropes deflecting a barrage of blows well aimed at our most sensitive areas. Instead of getting out in front of the debate and defining the paradigms, we found ourselves trying to explain to people that there were no death panels, that this was not a government take-over of our health system, that our rights were not being taken away. Rhetorically, whenever one finds himself explaining what his argument is not, he has lost the debate. The right used every fear held by Americans, whether it was valid or not, to defeat the Affordable Care Act. During the summer recess, conservative groups sent out directives for conservatives to disrupt town halls with false accusations and to shout down any attempt at reasonable discussion. Neo-con superstars were given prime-time slots in which to spew fantasies of government bureaucracies pulling the plug on grandma and forced abortions and access to health care based on political affiliation. They insisted that any attempt to get health care costs under control was the cradle of tyranny. And rational discussion was futile, as their claims were irrational.
Ultimately, conservatives defeated the public option and managed to get the biggest part of the Republican health care proposal of 1993 passed. You’d think they’d be happy. If it was about promoting policy, conservatives would have been happy, but that’s not the game. It was during the lashing we received in the health care debate that I realized that conservatism isn’t a philosophy. It is a strategy. Policies are irrelevant. Conservatism is about tactics. The primary weapon of the right is fear.
This is a power game in which conservatives use fear to cultivate their base and to vilify the opposition. The health care debate of Obama’s early administration was just one example this. As I re-examine the history of conservatism I see that fear is the only real tool the right has to perpetuate itself. To be fair, the conservative base, like the liberal base, is mostly sincere about their beliefs. Like liberals, conservative beliefs are cultivated by reference groups that shape the stories and paradigms told and thus reify a largely unitary worldview. All reference groups do this. This is where the equivalence ends, however. Yes, I will admit that groups like the Center for American Progress is, largely, an apologist propaganda group for the Democratic Party and that they often present skewed data and emotional claims to make their case. However, they don’t typically present information that is clearly not true and fear is not a central theme of its work. There is no central, liberal institution so dedicated to misinformation and fear-mongering as one sees on the right.
Conservative think tanks (or should I say fear tanks) use what may be a natural fear of change, or an innate and cultivated fear of the other, immigrants, commies, terrorists, to perpetuate elite interests. This is almost reactionary. For decades, a socially entrenched fear of communism was the cudgel of right wing attack. Anyone suggesting that the government do something to help marginalized people immediately faced accusations of “socialist” “communist” “Marxist”. This continues. Even before President Obama was able to accomplish anything in his administration he was targeted by the right as an outsider, foreigner, radical. Contemporary uncertainty about the economy inspires conservatives to link any reforms to economic catastrophe—Stimulus will create Weimar level inflation, the Dodd-Frank act will destroy the economy, Obamacare will cause another recession. Be afraid of terrorists. Be afraid of gays destroying your marriage and converting your children. Be afraid of Mexicans taking your job. Fear is always the central theme. Facts are rarely ever offered unless they affirm professed fears. All they have is fear.
This fear-mongering is evident in the notorious anti-Obamacare ad recently released. The ad links “signing on to Obamacare” with the rape a young girl at her most vulnerable. No factual claims are presented. Indeed, the ad begins with a lie that this girl “signed on to Obamacare.” She would have signed on to a private insurer through a marketplace exchange. Facts are irrelevant. The rape imagery is the conservative money-shot. Conservatives don’t want you to know anything. They want you to fear. They don’t want you to think, because even the slightest amount of thought will reveal them for what they are—frauds. They want you to react. Imagery is everything. Substance is irrelevant.
The data does not matter. I’m a huge fan of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but he cannot fathom why conservatives seem immune to factual evidence. Of course he can’t. His life is guided by data and reliable models. Nothing can be further from the conservative mindset. Simply put, factual evidence is the one thing that mitigates senseless fear. Since fear is the fuel of conservatism, factual evidence is verboten. It’s not that conservatives don’t know or understand the facts. It’s that the facts get in the way of the conservative agenda, which coincides with elite interests.
That’s what makes the fulfillment of Obamacare so dangerous to conservatives. The Affordable Care Act itself is not necessarily dangerous to elite interests. After all, the Affordable Care Act created a mandated market for insurance tycoons. Rather, Obamacare can become the peak behind the curtain revealing the true, anemic nature of conservative power.
That’s why Obamacare must be killed at all costs.
But it won’t be. Soon the fraud will be revealed.
Now the conservatives should not worry about losing their base. Those who mindlessly absorb their daily sermons from FoxNoise or WorldNut Daily are unlikely to leave the fold. They will not be turned by any evidence because, after all, anything that contradicts FoxNoise is nothing more than left wing propaganda.
However, the right wing reference groups, like Heritage, and FoxNoise, et. al. will certainly be working overtime to conjure some fearsome phantom aimed at convincing people that the sky really is falling, or to distract them with some other ghoul until they forget about all that silly death panel stuff.