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The State of the Union

The President will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday. My interest was piqued by a line from pre-address coverage at The Hill saying:

President Obama hopes to push the reset button on his second term Tuesday when he delivers the State of the Union address to Congress and a primetime television audience.

If there were to be a birther rebuttal to the State of the Union, it might well have the theme of pushing the reset button on Obama’s first term. But that’s not going to happen and as far as I am concerned, whatever birther relevance there was ended with the re-election of Barack Obama last year. A news article mentioning “birther” today is more likely to be about Ted Cruz or someone else, than about Barack Obama.

While the state of the birthers today is abysmal, irrational right-wing beliefs about Barack Obama, and world affairs in general, are strong, and this should be no surprise. The most successful news organization in the country is the Fox News Channel, and it is run by a man who believes that Barack Obama is a socialist and that climate change is a hoax spread by foreign countries to try to get an advantage over the United States. Roger Ailes1, President of Fox News Channel, was instrumental in the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. His message of fear and division is not only on home television screens, but in many restaurants and medical waiting rooms in this area. The Colbert Report this week had a piece on a recent court decision about “net neutrality” and gave three clips from three news organizations, highlighting by comparison Fox News fear mongering:

CBS: The way we use the Internet could change after a federal appeals court struck down “net neutrality” rules.

PBS: The fallout over a big decision may change now the web works and the future of so-called “net neutrality”

Fox News: We could be witnessing the end of the Internet as we know it.

Some furor has arisen after a recent series remarks by a Republican House candidate Joshua Black from Florida who said on Twitter of Barack Obama:

I’m past impeachment. It’s time to arrest and hang him high.

and

He should be executed for treason. I think the appropriate punishment is death. They killed Benedict Arnold.2 (Obama) shouldn’t be allowed to kill Americans without a trial.

The liberal web site Politicus USA wrote of this incident:

The real issue isn’t the mental health issues of Joshua Black, but the fact that so many Republicans agree with him.

But look at right-wing news coverage that leads to this kind of thinking:

  • Obama Care Exemption – None Dare Call it Treason (Washington Times)
  • Treason Season at the State Department (Fox News)
  • Cheney: Obama Giving ‘Aid and Comfort to the Enemy’ (Fox News)
  • ‘Fast and Furious’ an Act of Treason? (Fox News)
  • Romney supporters mock Obama, Call Him Treasonous (Newsmax)

If one wonders why so many people believe something as crazy as Barack Obama being a socialist doing everything he can to destroy the country, it is because they belong to a community where this belief is the norm, lead by a powerful persuader who actually believes it. Folks like me do not understand the seeming insanity of extreme conservatives because we do not live in the world as it is portrayed to them by Fox News and its kindred.

A nation only survives when it shares some basic level consensus and good will, so I conclude that the State of the Union is precarious so long as divisive voices have such professional skill and reach. Only time will tell. I will leave you with this quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.


1There’s a lot on the Internet this month about Roger Ailes due to the publication of a new biography of him: The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country by Gabriel Sherman.

2Actually Benedict Arnold went to England where he eventually died of natural causes.

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34 Responses to The State of the Union

  1. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    Well said, Doc.

    It’s all about fear……fear driven by and feeding on ignorance, and the people willing to exploit it for their own ends and to the detriment of everyone but themselves.

    The most disturbing thing to me is the rising level of hatred that people are willing to give voice to. It’s louder and more strident than I recall at any time in my life.

    It has been worse in our history and we can only hope that the pendulum swings back from the extremes soon.

  2. avatar
    Slartibartfast January 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Doc said, “A nation only survives when it shares some basic level consensus and good will“.

    I think you put your finger on the danger of the divisiveness that is the right wing’s stock and trade.

  3. avatar
    Thomas Brown January 25, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    “If one wonders why so many people believe something as crazy as Barack Obama being a socialist doing everything he can to destroy the country, it is because they belong to a community where this belief is the norm, lead by a powerful persuader who actually believes it. ”

    I wonder.

    I find it plausible that Ailes and other right-wingers may not believe this stuff. With some of them, it may be an appallingly cynical exercise… they know it’s not true, none of it, and they just do not care.

    Their soullessness is deep. If someone tries to kill the President, they will not care about what their message did to the assassin, or his family… they will be the first to distance themselves and vilify the bad actor. They will be glad it happened, and ready to do it again the next time a Democrat is President… but in public they will call it a “senseless tragedy” that “couldn’t have been predicted” and will call any attempt to connect right-wing media messages with the act “irresponsible.”

    As our noble host and a moral man, you may have trouble attributing this level of malevolence to Ailes and his ilk, Doc. Or you may simply disagree. You have certainly earned a right to either.

  4. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 25, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    My comment that Ailes believes Obama is a socialist and that climate change is a hoax is based on Sherman’s book listed in the article’s footnote. Excerpt:

    [Ailes told his neighbors] that Obama was using the stimulus as a “political tool” in order to buy his reelection in 2012. Obama pushed green energy, when in fact climate change was a “worldwide conspiracy” spun by “foreign nations” to gain control of America;’s resources.

    Ailes told Bill Clinton that he could be prosecuted and jailed as a political prisoner should Obama be reelected, and that he was exploring emigrating to Ireland.

    I don’t have trouble attributing cynical manipulation of public opinion for personal profit. I think it happens a lot. I just think Ailes is a genuine right wing nut job manipulating public opinion both for personal profit and ideological goals.

    Thomas Brown: As our noble host and a moral man, you may have trouble attributing this level of malevolence to Ailes and his ilk, Doc. Or you may simply disagree. You have certainly earned a right to either.

  5. avatar
    Zim R. Men January 25, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    I didn’t ever believe the birthers but they just don’t stop do they?

    Even I think the latest theory is wacky but there is a resemblance:

    http://www.birtherreport.com/2014/01/freedom-friday-obama-name-soebarkah.html

    I don’t think Zullo will shatter the universe in March but if the birthers have something and get obama for treason will they go after us and the doctor conspiracy for treason too?

  6. avatar
    Dave January 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    I wonder at this statement: “The most successful news organization in the country is the Fox News Channel…”

    I suppose it depends on your definition of successful, but some facts that lean against this assessment are that FNC draws an average of 1.8 million prime-time viewers (link) while NBC, ABC, and CBS evening news draw 9.4, 8.5, and 7.5 million respectively (link).

  7. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 25, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Dave:
    I wonder at this statement: “The most successful news organization in the country is the Fox News Channel…”

    I suppose it depends on your definition of successful, but some facts that lean against this assessment are that FNC draws an average of 1.8 million prime-time viewers (link) while NBC, ABC, and CBS evening news draw 9.4, 8.5, and 7.5 million respectively (link).

    Thanks!

    I’ve posted this same information so many times I’d kind of given up.

    The fantasy is that cable news (and Fox in particular) dominates political discourse in America when, in fact, barely a half of one per cent of the population watches all of them combined every evening. Source: http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/category/ratings

    The problem, as it has often been in history, is that a painfully and pitifully small minority is getting more attention than it deserves and that is good for the rest of society.

  8. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 25, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Zim R. Men: I don’t think Zullo will shatter the universe in March but if the birthers have something and get obama for treason will they go after us and the doctor conspiracy for treason too?

    Rest easy: No treason. No conspiracy. No March surprise. No nothing.

  9. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 25, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    CarlOrcas: The problem, as it has often been in history, is that a painfully and pitifully small minority is getting more attention than it deserves and that is good for the rest of society

    Just noticed. It should read……”that is not good for the rest of society.”

  10. avatar
    Keith January 25, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Zim R. Men: I don’t think Zullo will shatter the universe in March but if the birthers have something and get obama for treason will they go after us and the doctor conspiracy for treason too?

    Don’t lose any sleep over it.

  11. avatar
    OllieOxenFree January 25, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    I don’t think Zullo will shatter the universe in March but if the birthers have something and get obama for treason will they go afterus and the doctor conspiracy for treason too?

    Great. Now we can expect several articles at P&E and BR/ORYR claiming that the “Obots” are running scared and worried about the repercussions of supporting the “usurper.” Articles entitled, “Obots Feeling the Heat,” and, “Zullo Putting the Pressure On Obots.”

  12. avatar
    Lupin January 26, 2014 at 2:26 am #

    I think this is media magnification of a small fringe of third-world-like tribal politics worthy of Haiti. Fortunately the vast majority of Americans don’t give a fig.

  13. avatar
    AC180 January 26, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Zim is John or at least someone who thinks a lot like him. No reasonable, thinking person would have even the slightest concern over Zullo’s non-sense — other than the slight concern sane people have that some of Zullo’s more unhinged supporters might one day snap and hurt some innocent people in a fit of rage, once they realize Obama’s not going away.

  14. avatar
    Lupin January 26, 2014 at 4:35 am #

    Zim R. Men: will they go after us

    If by “us” you mean this Frenchman too, I’ll have a good laugh.

    I find this American obsession with the notion of “treason” rather bizarre.

    While I know that a person need not be a U.S. citizen to commit treason under your Constitution — a rather crazy notion to begin with, since it would logically mean that the entire world could be guilty of “treason” when opposing the US of A — I also understand that, more reasonably, it’s been found only persons who owe temporary allegiance to the United States can commit treason.

    But that didn’t prevent some of your officials to bandy the word in connection with Julian Assange, an Australian citizen who didn’t live or had ever lived in the US.

    FYI in France we define/separate treason and espionage as follows:

    “The acts defined by articles [etc] constitute treason where they are committed by a French national or a soldier in the service of France, and constitute espionage when they are committed by any other person.”

    If your officials can be so misguided, not to say appearing unhinged to foreign eyes, it’s no wonder the birthers feel comfortable doing the same.

  15. avatar
    JPotter January 26, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Zim R. Men: Zim R. Men

    Concern troll should choose his handle with more care LOL

  16. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG January 26, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    I rate Zim R. Men’s trolling 2/10.
    Had some real potential, but he squandered it.

  17. avatar
    Curious George January 26, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    We’ve all heard President Obama announce that he wanted to transform America. To help transform healthcare in America, we were told the lie, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” Some have labeled this, “THE lie of 2013.” What I find difficult to understand is what appears to be a double standard. On the one hand, we expose the lies of Mike Zullo. I firmly believe Zullo should be exposed. On the other hand we give President Obama a pass when he blatantly lies to America to transform American healthcare. Do we only expose the lies when the political agenda doesn’t meet our objectives? Isn’t that a little hypocritical? Does the end really justify the means?

  18. avatar
    Arthur January 26, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Zim R. Men: I don’t think Zullo will shatter the universe in March but if the birthers have something and get obama for treason will they go after us and the doctor conspiracy for treason too?

    Yeah, I’ve been worried about that, too! As we know, in the United States, it’s quite common for the supporters of a disgraced, indicted, or imprisoned politician to experience retribution at the hands of that politician’s enemies. For example, I remember so clearly my Dad losing his job and my Mom getting her head shaved because they were both vocal supporters of Richard Nixon. Later, my brother, who was a real fan of Casper Weinberger, was pinched and taunted, and only escaped a severe tickling when George H. W. Bush pardoned ol’ Cap. Of course, me, the black sheep of the family, and the only Democrat, was nearly pilloried over the Whitewater Scandal and then found myself mocked incessantly over Clinton’s impeachment. The last straw occurred when I voted for Rob Blagojevich. Now I find myself in exiled to the Siberian-like wastelands of Northwestern, Iowa.

    So, Zimmy, the question isn’t will they, it’s WHEN will they. And the answer seems to be March. Or April . . . maybe June. Certainly by November. Unless something comes up. Meantime, we’re all on tenterhooks.

  19. avatar
    Arthur January 26, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    I find that there’s a difference between intentionally making a false statement to deceive and making a statement that you believe is true but that turns out later to be false. In that regard, I’ve not read any objective information that proves Obama’s statement was a lie, but if you have some, I’d be interested in reading it.

    Curious George: Isn’t that a little hypocritical?

  20. avatar
    Bob January 26, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Zim R. Men:

    Even I think the latest theory is wacky but there is a resemblance

    Perhaps you should take your concern (that Obama resembles a photo of someone that has been photoshopped to resemble Obama) to your Congressperson.

  21. avatar
    JPotter January 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Curious George: Isn’t that a little hypocritical?

    Hmmm … yep, CG, I’d say that trotting out thoroughly rebutted dead horses as if they were fresh steeds from unexplored territory, while participating in a forum that documents the tendencies of birfers to do the very same, is very hypocritical.

    Equating simplification to outright fabrication = false equivalence.

  22. avatar
    sfjeff January 26, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    >Curious George: We’ve all heard President Obama announce that he wanted to transform America.

    Many of the posters here are critical of many of Obama.

    But this thread is about the Birther lies.

    Plenty of Blogs who are more than willing to argue about whether or not Obama has lied.

    But Birthers are clearly lying.

    And Birtherism is the topic here

  23. avatar
    Dave January 27, 2014 at 12:52 am #

    Curious George:
    Some have labeled this, “THE lie of 2013.”

    Yes, some have.

    What an appropriate comment for a post about Fox News, who have a habit of trotting out right-wing spin prefaced by “some say…”

    I believe it is a fact that all the cancelled policies are the result of insurance companies action. Specifically, that the law does allow people to keep their policies, but it doesn’t allow insurance companies to modify existing substandard policies and continue to offer them. And all the cancellations are the result of insurance companies doing exactly that.

    More briefly, the law didn’t require insurance companies to continue grandfathered policies, and many didn’t.

  24. avatar
    The Magic M (not logged in) January 27, 2014 at 4:57 am #

    Lupin: FYI in France we define/separate treason and espionage as follows:

    “The acts defined by articles [etc] constitute treason where they are committed by a French national or a soldier in the service of France, and constitute espionage when they are committed by any other person.”

    In Germany, “espionage” is not defined in the criminal code.
    There are different levels of treason defined, and they all can be committed by anyone (just like any other criminal act), not just German citizens.

    81 of the German Criminal Code (“High Treason”) says:

    “Whoever undertakes, by force or the threat of force, to undermine the existence of the German state, or to alter the constitutional order based on the German Constitution…”

    (Other parts of the Criminal Code deal with treason against individual federal states, preparation of treasonous acts or starting an unprovoked war – the latter being probably the only law that only elected representatives can violate.)

    I also think that “treason” is used very lightly in the US. For example, expressing a desire to change the Constitution (e.g. to allow naturalized citizens to become President) isn’t treason because amending the Constitution is something the Constitution itself expressly allows. It would only be treason to try this by force and not the prescribed legal process.
    In a similar way, “unconstitutional” is often used in the German political debate in places where “changing the Constitution” is under discussion (of course a change of the Constitution itself can be unconstitutional, at least in Germany, where some articles of the Constitution – those dealing with elementary rights such as freedom of speech and religion – are protected against being changed in a way that touches the core of their intention, Art. 19 II GG).

  25. avatar
    Rickey January 27, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    Curious George:
    We’ve all heard President Obama announce that he wanted to transform America.To help transform healthcare in America, we were told the lie, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” Some have labeled this, “THE lie of 2013.” What I find difficult to understand is what appears to be a double standard.On the one hand, we expose the lies of Mike Zullo.I firmly believe Zullo should be exposed.On the other hand we give President Obama a pass when he blatantly lies to America to transform American healthcare. Do we only expose the lies when the political agenda doesn’t meet our objectives?Isn’t that a little hypocritical? Does the end really justify the means?

    The problem with your analysis is that the “keeping your plan” problem (to the extent that it actually exists, and it appears to have been exaggerated) was created by the insurance companies. The Obama Administration assumed that the health insurance companies would simply modify their existing policies to bring them into compliance with the law. Instead, many insurance companies decided to cancel existing policies and replace them with new policies. This gave them the opportunity to “clean house” by dropping doctors from their networks who they felt were costing them too much money, and it also gave them the opportunity to try to steer policyholders into more expensive policies.

    The other unforeseen development was that some small businesses decided to drop their company plans altogether and instead give money to their employees to buy individual policies on the exchanges. Obviously, those employees had difficulty finding plans which exactly matched the coverage and doctor networks which they previously had through their group plans.

    What is lost in the discussion is the fact that doctors and hospitals were being dropped from insurance company networks long before Obamacare was enacted. For years health insurance companies have been rating doctors in their networks for cost effectiveness, and they routinely refused to renew contracts with doctors who they believed were over-treating patients. By the same token, some doctors would refuse to remain in a network because they would not accept the reimbursement rates which the insurance company was willing to pay.

    I had to change my primary care physician last year because my doctor decided to retire. When that happens, you find a new doctor and move on.

    In the meantime, more than 3 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Federal and State exchanges and the number of uninsured Americans is dropping.

  26. avatar
    Keith January 27, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    The Magic M (not logged in): I also think that “treason” is used very lightly in the US.

    I think I disagree, but I’m not sure I catch your meaning exactly.

    Treason is the only crime defined in the U.S. Constitution. It has a very high threshold of applicability.

    The founding generation was aware of the Colonial Government taking extremely minor affronts as treason. Expressing opinions against the King and Parliament were punishable as treason. Damaging a likeness of the King was punishable as treason. Protesting against unfair taxation was punishable as treason. Treason was a crime that could be charged literally at whim and against which there was virtually no defense.

    The founding generation didn’t take it lightly at all; that is why they made sure that no future Government could use it as a convenient weapon against its own people by defining it very narrowly.

    That some slow thinkers, rabble-rousers, chemically imbalanced, or just plain ignoramuses think it is fashionable to use the ‘T’ word against everyone with different world view doesn’t mean we take it ‘lightly’. Treason, as defined in the Constitution is a very serious matter indeed.

  27. avatar
    Curious George January 28, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Dave,
    “Specifically, that the law does allow people to keep their policies, but it doesn’t allow insurance companies to modify existing substandard policies and continue to offer them. And all the cancellations are the result of insurance companies doing exactly that.”

    Rickey,
    “The Obama Administration assumed that the health insurance companies would simply modify their existing policies to bring them into compliance with the law. Instead, many insurance companies decided to cancel existing policies and replace them with new policies.’

    So on one hand, the law, according to Dave, says that the existing insurance can’t be modified and on the other hand, according to Rickey, the Obama Administration assumed that the health insurance companies would modify the existing policies.

    What does the ACA say about modifying an existing policy, chapter and verse? According to the insurance companies, they were simply complying with the ACA. The Obama Administration assumed? Didn’t they read the ACA? Amazing!

  28. avatar
    Curious George January 28, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    Rickey:
    “In the meantime, more than 3 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Federal and State exchanges and the number of uninsured Americans is dropping.”

    So you cancel 5 million to get 3 million signed up? New math? The cancellations are far from over. The employer mandate will be “UNIVERSE SHATTERING” when it kicks in at the end of the year.

  29. avatar
    sfjeff January 28, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Curious George: So you cancel 5 million to get 3 million signed up? New math? The cancellations are far from over. The employer mandate will be “UNIVERSE SHATTERING” when it kicks in at the end of the year.

    I think the 5 million number is suspect BUT- how many of those whose policies were canceled are still without insurance? We don’t know yet.

    I think President Obama over promised the ACA, but the jury is still out on whether or not it will actually work to reduce the number of uninsured.

    It will be interesting to see 6 months from now where the ACA is- whether the number of uninsured is reduced, what are the unintended negative and positive consequences.

    I am perfectly fine with President Obama being judged by the success or failure of the overall ACA, but we are certainly not there yet.

  30. avatar
    Keith January 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    That 5 million includes those who had NEW policies replacing OLD policies.

    That is on the INSURANCE COMPANY, not the ACA. With or without the ACA if an Insurance stops providing a policy you can’t keep it. Those people are not uninsured; they have BETTER insurance.

    That 5 million includes those whose EMPLOYER cancelled the policy.

    That is on the EMPLOYER; not the ACA. With or without the ACA if an Employer stops paying for insurance, you are out of luck. Most of those people can get better coverage through the exchange, though how the financial cost works out is going to vary with the circumstance.

    The number of people who are completely out of luck directly due to the ACA is extremely small compared to the number of people who getting insurance for the first time.

  31. avatar
    Rickey January 28, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    Curious George:

    So you cancel 5 million to get 3 million signed up?New math?The cancellations are far from over.The employer mandate will be “UNIVERSE SHATTERING” when it kicks in at the end of the year.

    Please. You’re mixing apples and oranges. The vast majority of people whose policies were technically cancelled got new policies through their employers or whatever their prior source of health insurance was. They didn’t go through the exchanges to get new policies.

    This is what happened with my company. The existing policy was not compliant with the ACA, so it was cancelled and replaced by a policy which was essentially the same except that it complies with the ACA. Nobody in my company had to go through the exchanges to get health insurance.

    The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate for U.S. adults dropped by 1.2 percentage points in January, to 16.1 percent. That would translate to roughly 2 million to 3 million people gaining coverage. That couldn’t possibly have happened if your math was accurate.

  32. avatar
    Rickey January 28, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Curious George:

    What does the ACA say about modifying an existing policy, chapter and verse?According to the insurance companies, they were simply complying with the ACA. The Obama Administration assumed? Didn’t they read the ACA?Amazing!

    The health insurance companies could have brought their policies into compliance simply by adding endorsements to the policies. That is standard practice in the insurance industry. They chose to do it differently.

  33. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG January 29, 2014 at 12:36 am #

    The SOTU pretty much went as I expected: Obama said words, birthers raged about them.

  34. avatar
    The Magic M January 29, 2014 at 4:20 am #

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: Obama said words, birthers raged about them.

    For a group of people who claims they “can’t stand listening to the guy”, they sure listen to him a lot.
    But probably all they hear is “Communism Alinsky Alinsky Alinsky Muslim Lie Lie Socialism Alinsky Alinsky FU Birthers Alinsky Martial Law Alinsky Alinsky”. ;)