James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Avoiding thought, dodging reality

“Free man is by necessity insecure; thinking man by necessity uncertain.”

--Eric Fromm, psychotherapist, author, refugee from Nazi Germany, who described three ways people escape from freedom: 1. Accepting authoritarianism. 2. Destructiveness against all who oppose or disagree. 3. “Automaton conformity.”

It was obvious we were going to have another enormous and wholly spurious media flap the minute Barak Obama made his statement about small town people being bitter because politicians and government ignore their concerns.

When he said that some people turn in anger and resentment to “guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” it was a given that the intellectually stunted and ethically challenged adolescents of the corporate news outlets would go out of control. Again.

It also was obvious that Obama would backpedal with the speed, but without the skill, of a circus unicyclist, as soon as the fit hit the shan.

Pity. His statement was dead-on accurate as far as it went.

Of course, at least according to popular “wisdom,” it would have been career suicide to go on and tell the rest of the truth: that a sad majority of Americans behave in that way, at least some of the time, because they are ignorant, intellectually lazy and pants-wetting afraid of unpleasant truths.

Avoidance of the unpleasant, especially unpleasant self-knowledge, is a national character trait, like overeating and the belief that we have an absolute right to most of the world's oil.

The ignorant and fearful –- who include a whole lot of small town people, especially but not only in the South and the rust belt –- eagerly embrace phony issues they can grasp without effort. That is a big reason that we have had Bushcheney and the neocons in the White House for seven-plus years, and why we had a right-wing majority in Congress for more years, and why we have a crumbling economy, a rapidly shrinking middle class, a health care system that would shame a second world dictatorship and an insane and endless war in Iraq and why we're threatened with the distinct possibility of another, even more insane war against Iran.

Lots of bewildered folks jump on supposed threats to their right to hunting guns, and embrace anti-gay fictions and racism thinly disguised as worries about immigrants because such issues, while fictions created by demagogues, are within their capacity to understand.

Hordes of people are ready to stomp on anyone who doesn't share their embrace of the hate-preaching version of evangelical Christianity because they are afraid and don't understand what's happening to them; the preachers give direction to their anger and offer certainty, however false.

The fake, simple and simple-minded issues laid enticingly before them by the Republicans and the corporate news media and right wing preachers and their allies are attractive alternatives to dealing with real problems because they don't require guts to face or intellectual wherewithal to understand.

It's obvious that most Americans, like many people everywhere, are scared to death of freedom, of the right and necessity -– especially the necessity –- to acquire and understand facts and then make often difficult choices.

They fairly beg to be told what to do and they want to follow a clear set of rules and want everyone else to follow exactly the same set of rules and they're willing, sometimes eager, to destroy anyone who doesn't embrace the rules.

“Home of the brave and land of the free” indeed.


Until a day or two ago I wasn't going to say any of this, and I wasn't going to address the flap over Obama's statement because I figured the talking heads and op-dead columnists would worry it to shreds without any help from a small-time blogger from Minneapolis.

But the performance of those commentators, especially the Republican yap dogs, is way beyond the tolerable this time, and has become even worse since the absurd ABC Democratic “debate” a few nights ago.

(A sane candidate with a modicum of courage – which excludes all still in the running at this point – would refuse participation in any further fake debates.)

Most of the words expended on the subject of Obama and “bitterness” on television have been silly in the extreme, which was to be expected. Commercial television hasn't allowed a wholly rational human being to be heard –- except very occasionally on purported comedy shows –- since Jimmy Carter got wrinkles.

The press hasn't been noticeably better.

Babbling jackasses such as William Kristol have truly fallen overboard. Kristol tried in an April 14 column to equate Obama's statement with Marxist antireligiosity.

David Brooks, who has made a career out of misunderstanding almost everything he hears or reads, concentrated on Obama's reluctant responses to the flurry of questions about trivia that took up more than half the pretend debate. He also demonstrated that he, Brooks, entirely misunderstood Obama's comments about small town folks.

To give credit where it is due –- and it is due him so seldom –- Brooks got one thing right. Obama was silly to say that he would never raise taxes for anyone making less than $200,000 to $250,000 a year.

Sadly, even the revered Paul Krugman screwed up on this one.

Krugman said Obama was wrong about the attitudes and actions of small town folks. He based his assessment on some highly unreliable polls that he said show that small towners are not bitter, and don't turn to religion out of frustration and that they do vote on economic issues “instead” of things like guns and gay marriage. Not only are the polls unreliable because the pollsters obviously asked the wrong questions in the wrong way, but Krugman's reading of what they said is highly selective.

In putting down Obama, Krugman also retracted his earlier praise of Thomas Frank's book, “What's the Matter With Kansas,” which addressed the question of why so many Americans vote against their own interests by backing Republicans who represent only the interests of the very rich.

So what's up with that?

It seems clear that Krugman has one of the common faults afflicting us less brilliant mortals. He can't accept information or opinion that conflicts with his commitments. Can't admit he's wrong, in other words.

Krugman is a long-time supporter of the Clintons, and has been a backer of Hillary Clinton since the campaign began. Obama is anathema to him.

It's become embarrassing, actually. Lately he's been writing fiction about the wonderfulness of Bill Clinton's economic policies, and conveniently forgetting that Clinton laid the groundwork for many of the admittedly more egregious sins of the Bushcheney Mob.

Krugman apparently doesn't remember Bill's “welfare reform,” which is directly responsible for much of the horrendous poverty now sinking millions as jobs disappear. He can't admit that Billy boy opened the way for the wholesale shipping of American jobs to labor-exploiting countries and gave impetus to the rule changes that have allowed American corporations to screw over their employees and retirees time after time.

Perhaps he'll regain his balance after the election.

I want to join Michael Winship of Truthout in asking a simple question:

Winship said accurately that the responses of the “news” boobs, and of Hillary Clinton and John McCain to Obama's comments have been “mind shattering in their hypocrisy and cynicism.”

He also provided a more complete report on what Obama said, including that “In a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, they feel so betrayed by government that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it.”

There's more, and it is all accurate. You can look up the whole statement.

So with Winship, I want to ask: Why shouldn't those who have been screwed over by the Clinton and Bush administrations be bitter?

When you get down to it, perhaps the public is becoming less willing to accept simple-minded fake issues such as lapel pins as substitutes for dealing with its real problems. Maybe, just maybe, folks are catching on to the fact that they've been had by a bunch of thieves, butchers and con men. Perhaps they do begin to understand what the news punks are trying to hide -- that Obama voiced a basic truth. Maybe, despite the efforts of the broadcasters and columnists, speaking that truth will not work against the candidate in this instance.

(FYI: I am not an Obama true believer. I'm still seriously considering casting a write-in vote for president regardless of who becomes the Democratic nominee.)