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Altered states

I listened to the President’s State of the Union address last evening. To my ears it was unremarkable. It was a “glass is half full” description of the country offering motivation to move forward, but I doubt that the speech will in and of itself change anything. It certainly was in stark contrast to the right-wing view that the country is mostly destroyed by Obama’s policies and will be completely destroyed before he leaves office. Obama urged Congress to extend unemployment benefits, raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and pass immigration reform—and to stop voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act after 40 unsuccessful tries, but significantly, there was not a single allusion or joke aimed at birthers.

What I found remarkable, and what prompted me to write this article, is that there was not one Republican response to the speech, but two, and three if you count the one by Rand Paul. I’m not buying Paul’s description of the three responses as “complimentary.” What they signal to me is that not only are Republicans not willing to work with Democrats, they are not willing to work with each other. It suggests that the old saying “cooler heads will prevail” is no longer valid. The book Double Down: Game Change 2012 that I’m reading now talks about the deep division in the Republican Party over the Romney candidacy, and Romney’s loss to Obama has to strengthen the position of the more extreme elements on the right.

My high school Civics teacher described politics as a pendulum that swung back and forth between a liberal and conservative consensus. The farther political events move from the center the greater the accumulated reaction resisting it, just as the acceleration towards the center is greater as the bob moves to its extreme positions. What is impossible for someone like me to see is how far the bob will swing in the current cycle before it heads back. An NBC poll says that the 28% of the country thinks we are on the right track, and 63% on the wrong track. That would suggest acceleration, but it doesn’t say what direction the acceleration is in.

I think the next few years will be interesting.

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.