Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vaneglorious sunsabittches

A wheel’s worth nothing if there’s no turning, and the wheel of popular momentum lately enjoyed by conservative extremists over health care, domestic public policy and all things Obama is beginning to shift (which is to say continuing the shift that started in November).

The yahoos have had their hours in the sun. More's to come, for sure, but more recently there’s a growing sense that these lower-case Nazis, these thugs and brown shirts of the Internet age, are getting their comeuppance, hoist on the petards of intolerance that’s more obvious every day.

Thank goodness, it’s not the kind of reckoning administered by American soldiers to upper-case Nazis in Quentin Tarantino’s over-the-top WWII splatter epic, “Inglourious Basterds.” But some in the extremist cadres and their supporters are getting the rhetorical Louisville Sluggers upside the head that they and their lies deserve:

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the harebrained mouthbreathing Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, was heckled Thursday night at a town hall in Lake Elmo, Minn., reported Roll Call and Glenn Thrush of The Huffington Post.

"There's a rumor that President Obama was going to have Tiger Woods play a round of golf with him on Martha's Vineyard this week while he was on vacation — "

At this point, HuffPost reported, she was interrupted by shouts of "Health care! Health care!"

She continued: "And I don't know that there's any truth to that rumor -- but there was also a rumor that the president was going to hit him up for a $300 trillion loan, which we might need for our economy."

Crickets. Followed by feedback (electronic and human).

"I would first like to thank you for turning a Reagan voter into a DFL activist," one person said of said one attendee. having joined the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, essentially the apparatus of the state Democratic Party.

Roll Call reported that after Bachmann told a story about women giving birth in hospital hallways (by way of comparing American hospitals to those in the UK), a man in the audience piped up, "That happens here." Bachmann retorted, "I've given birth here probably more times than you, sir."

But it was weak. Bachmann was clearly off her game and out of her element, even if she was in her district. After a bit she retreated into her usual blustery jabbering, especially when she attempted to give her constituents some idea of the scope of the $9 trillion deficit projection, made by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“Sometimes we can sometimes get confused when we hear the terms -- millions , billions, trillions,” she said. “What does that mean? Let's just take an example: A million seconds is eleven and a half days. A second is 32 years. A trillion seconds is 32,000 years-- there's a big difference between billions and trillions.”

◊ ◊ ◊

On Aug. 18, at a town hall in Dartmouth, Mass., Rep. Barney Frank masterfully called bullshit on one of the Tea Party crowd, a woman in the audience who compared President Obama to Adolf Hitler on matters tied to the health-care debate.

""Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy, why are you supporting it?" she asked.

Frank's response was one for the books. "When you ask me that question, I am gonna revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?

"As you stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler, and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is ... it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated ...

"Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it," Frank said to rounds of applause.

Game, set, match.

◊ ◊ ◊

Fox News commentator and loose cannon Glenn Beck, well into his own twilight of the morons, is finding that even more advertisers are abandoning his Fox “Program,” a desertion that stems from his on-air comments that President Obama is a racist.

From the Color of Change Web site: “Adding to an increasing list of companies distancing themselves from Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck, ten new companies whose ads were recently seen during Beck's program -- Applebee's, Bank of America, Bell & Howell, DirecTv, General Mills, Kraft, Regions Financial Corporation, SAM (Store and Move), Travelers Insurance and Vonage -- have pledged to take steps to ensure that their ads don't run on Beck's show. Forty-six companies have now committed not to support Beck's show since launched its campaign three weeks ago …”

“Over 170,000 people have now signed our petition to Glenn Beck's advertisers, and it's working.”

Still, stupid dies hard. On Wednesday, in a malign tweak on Tim Russert’s classic 2000 election whiteboard moment, Beck used a blackboard to build a laughably tenuous connection between oligarchy and various first letters in several words tied to the governmental excesses Beck has convinced himself Obama is guilty of. He’s pulled a variation of this stunt before, earlier this month.

It’s hard not to see these mad rants for what they are. But shit still floats: The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 24 that despite the controversy, Beck’s viewership has hardly collapsed. His “Program” has averaged 2.25 million viewers, almost 100 percent more than tuned in during the same period last year. The comparison may not be a fair one; last year the network aired campaign-related coverage (“America’s Election HQ”) in that time period; such an apples-to-oranges comparison is inherently unequal. Still, The Times reported, the Beckster’s ratings are up from July, when the “Program” averaged a hair over 2 million viewers.

But clearly, for those who really matter, the bloom is off the Glenn Beck rose. It’s one thing for advertisers to vacate en masse a program on a network when the parent company of that network is flush with cash; it’s another matter entirely when that parent company (in this case News Corporation) is deep in debt (about $20 billion as of last October), and necessarily in need of every advertiser in every daypart it can get.

A Fox News spokeswoman said that while some advertisers have "removed their spots from Beck," they’ve moved to "other programs on the network, so there has been no revenue lost." But that’s putting the best face on a deteriorating situation; if an ad’s lost on one show, only an ad to replace it maintains the status quo. Advertisers — risk-averse in good times, much less these times — aren’t likely to pull an ad in a less controversial timeslot just to make an unprincipled flamethrower like Glenn Beck look good.

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s even happening to other more principled members of the Republicans and conservative establishments.

In his own presumably friendly backyard — the city of Phoenix — Arizona Sen. John McCain encountered a pissed-off crowd at a Wednesday town-hall meeting about health care reform. The Associated Press reported that it got so bad, McCain had to tell one a maverick in the audience — a woman who wouldn't stop yelling — that she would had to leave the event.

The AP said McCain hadn’t even officially opened the proceedings before the woman started firing questions and comments, apparently leaving her copy of Roberts’ Rules of Order on the dresser at home.

"You're going to have to stop or you're going to have to leave," McCain told her. When security guards appeared to escort her out, the senator told her "Goodbye, see ya," to hearty applause, The AP reported.

But that malcontent was the least of Big John’s problems.

Straight from AP:
After McCain opened it up to questioning, one man angrily pointed at him and asked the senator why he deserves a better health care plan than him.

"I'm trying to get it for you," McCain told him. "We'll do it for you. We'll make it affordable and available to you."

Other audience members in the crowd of 2,000 told McCain about their medical problems, such as HIV and multiple sclerosis.

McCain said he’d fight for health care reform but repeated his opposition to Obama's plan for a government health-care option that would compete with private insurers in the marketplace. AP reported that one audience member yelled at him that he gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies every year.

In a voice of feigned surprise, McCain said "Really? I didn't know that."

“There's more interest and involvement in this issue than I've ever seen in many years on a domestic issue," McCain said afterward. "There's obviously strong feeling and emotions on this issue ...”

Ya think? Really? We didn’t know that.

◊ ◊ ◊

All in all, and as events this week made clear, this isn’t the best time to be an open-minded, principled conservative in America. And in some ways, it’s an even worse time to be a wacko conservative in America. People are beginning to understand that however incomplete or imperfect Obama’s health-care plan might be, it’s still a plan — and as such, it’s the one thing the Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the echo chamber of conservative media haven’t earnestly, meaningfully offered in the health-care debate: a better way forward.

So the blowback the GOP is laying the groundwork for against Obama next year may not be what’s expected. It’s been said that while presidential elections are about change, midterm elections are about anger.

But there’s as much for Americans in general to be outraged about as Republicans in particular. And much of that anger in November will fall at the doorstep of the vainglorious extremists in Congress, the people who’re standing in the way of the same progress they blame President Obama for not making.
Image credit: Inglourious Basterds poster: © 2009 The Weinstein Company.

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