I was trying to catch up with what I missed while I was in the coma and I discovered
“How can voters be so ill informed?” Throughout this column, Krugman points to the disinformation which comes from “politicians”—especially conservative pols. This is part of the explanation for the public’s ignorance, of course. But many other major sectors have helped create this, our own private Egypt.
Consider a remarkable event from just a few weeks ago—an event which has been widely discussed, by only by liberal writers.
Hay-yo! Mike Stark, a liberal activist, somehow got through on the telephone line to speak to El Rushbo, Rush Limbaugh. Operating from a slightly muddled basic framework, Stark challenged some of the basic ways Ronald Reagan is described by conservatives. This is the way the chat began. For the full transcript and tape, just click here:
STARK (2/4/11): Hi, Rush. I, um—I’m calling because— Well, first of all, I’m a liberal, and I seriously don’t understand this, uh, Reagan idolatry on behalf of conservatives. I’ll get, I’ll give you my reasons. Instead of privatizing Social Security, he raised taxes. We’re all paying higher taxes today out of our paychecks every single week because he decided to save Social Security. He–
LIMBAUGH: Wait, wait. Hold it. I need to go— Wait! Jeez.
STARK: –the Greenspan Commission. He signed it into law, and it raised taxes on Social Security.
LIMBAUGH: What— Wait, you’re talking about Reagan or Clinton?
STARK: I’m talking about Reagan. Reagan did that. He raised taxes on Social Security.
“Reagan raised taxes on Social Security,” Stark accurately said. He did this through “the Greenspan commission,” whose proposals he “signed into law.” As a matter of basic American history, these statements are about as controversial as saying that Reagan was governor of California, or that his wife was named Nancy. But Limbaugh, a very important broadcaster, quickly began deceiving his listeners, the vast bulk of whom are American citizens and registered voters.
Moments later, still speaking with Stark, Limbaugh was handing them this:
LIMBAUGH: Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes on Social Security? What websites do you read? Where did you pick that up?
STARK: Look up the Greenspan Commission. It’s not too hard to find. I mean, it’s a matter of history.
LIMBAUGH: Where did you get it? I mean, you’re asking me questions. I’m just reversing one on you here.
STARK: I’m sorry. It’s just general knowledge. It’s something I’ve known for a long time. I can’t remember where I got it from.
LIMBAUGH: You can’t remember? You’ve never heard of a website called Media Matters which highlighted it yesterday?
STARK: Oh, no. I know Media Matters very well but that’s not where I got it.
LIMBAUGH: Oh, not where you got it. It’s an amazing coincidence.
“Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes on Social Security?” Having asked this remarkable question, Limbaugh instantly shifted ground, getting Stark to discuss a demonized web site, Media Matters.
Eventually, Limbaugh backtracked from that remarkable opening statement. Stark was no longer on the line when Limbaugh offered this silly, fleeting account of Reagan’s actions on Social Security:
LIMBAUGH: Reagan was forced to raise payroll taxes by a crisis in Social Security in 1983. He endorsed that rescue plan that was written by Alan Greenspan. It was reluctant. He was not a big supporter of that. Remember, Reagan did not have a congressional majority with him.
“Reagan was forced to raise payroll taxes,” Limbaugh now said, acknowledging the accuracy of the statement he had first called a “silly notion.” He didn’t even attempt to explain why he said Reagan was “forced” to do this—but this claim was basically nonsense too. (To read President Reagan’s effusive remarks at the 1983 bill-signing ceremony, see below.) And alas! This fleeting admission came late in a monologue about how people like Stark can’t be reasoned with! Limbaugh, to the now-absent Stark: “Your call is actually kinda interesting because you represent the impossibility of bridging the gap. Somebody like you just has to be defeated. There’s no crossing the aisle and finding common ground with you.”
Limbaugh isn’t a politician—he’s a very important national broadcaster with an extremely large audience. On a daily basis, he deceives millions of voters in just the way he did here. Why do people continue to trust him, in the way described by conservative writer Conor Friedersdorf a few weeks ago? In part, to borrow Friedersdorf’s language, because “they don’t realize that [the nation’s radio stations] puts this man on the air fully understanding that large parts of his program are uninformed nonsense mixed with brazen bullshit” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/11).
Friedersdorf was explaining why voters trust Glenn Beck—but his explanation extends to Limbaugh. That said, why don’t voters know or understand that Limbaugh is constantly deceiving them? In large part, this is the fault of other major sectors—including the mainstream press and the bulk of the “liberal” world.
Limbaugh’s statements to Stark were truly remarkable. He started by denouncing an obvious statement of fact as a “silly notion.” Later, he fleetingly backtracked, while presenting a blatantly silly notion of his own—the idea that Reagan was somehow “forced” to sign that 1983 Social Security measure. At a time when the nation is struggling hard to find solutions to budget problems, it’s news when a major figure like Limbaugh presents such nonsense to millions of voters. That’s especially true in the face of what Krugman notes today—in the face of the fact that the public has no earthly idea how the federal budget actually works.
An eighth-grade civics text can tell you—a democracy simply can’t function this way! But down through the years, the nation’s mainstream press organs have given wide berth to frauds like Limbaugh. And these same mainstream organs are very reluctant to report and discuss the facts touched on in Krugman’s piece—to report the fact that we the people are cluelesss about our own government. Meanwhile, the weak-willed boys and girls of our “liberal journals” have sat on the sidelines politely observing. Can you name the liberal journal which has ever criticized the mainstream press corps for its determined silence on these matters?
Can we talk? Limbaugh operates within a consensual code of silence agreed to by all major sectors. That helps explain how we’ve come to live in our own private laughable gong-show.
In a rational world, what would liberal and progressive entities do to tackle these various problems? Several suggestions:
First, we would look for ways to tell the public that they’re being disinformed. To state the obvious, this can’t be done in the clownish manner adopted by public clowns like Keith Olbermann. Progressives have to find ways to gain the trust of the broad range of average voters. This idea never occurs to most major “liberals,” a point we’ll discuss tomorrow as we look at some recent blog posts.
Second, we would insist that major mainstream organs discuss these matters as news. In a democracy, it’s news when the public doesn’t know squat from squadoodle about basic budget matters; it ought to widely reported as such. It’s news when people like Limbaugh conduct such clownish discussions.
How might progressive organs gain the trust of a wide range of voters? Of one thing you can be certain—you will never be asked to consider such questions on the pseudo-liberal web. We pseudo-liberals have turned out to be little better than the ditto-heads we’ve always mocked.
We live to mock The Other Tribe. One result? Our own private gong-show.
“Democracy” is just a word in this country, so clownish is our public discourse. By now, much of the clowning comes from our own side. Tomorrow, a further note on this incomparable post.
You may have noticed that I don’t ever get my panties in a bunch over Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. That’s because they are clowns. Yes, I said it. They are clowns.
They caper and dance, performing for the amusement of their fans. They are entertainers, not leaders. They are not role models. Nor are they the problem with our country.
The problem with our nation today is not that Beck and Limbaugh spread lies and misinformation. The problem is there is no one on the opposite side spreading truth and facts. In the marketplace of ideas they have a virtual monopoly.
During the health care reform “debate” there was a dearth of information available. Information like this:
Now I understand why Beck, Limbaugh and the rest of the wingnut chorus fail to tell us the truth. I don’t take it personal or worry about that.