|OVER THE CLIFF
How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane
Sausalito: PoliPointPress, 2010
If you thought this was just another book about the right-wing bloviators — Rush Limbaugh's churlish1 mendacity, Glenn Beck's ludicrous precepts, Michelle Malkin's indignant denunciations, and the rest — you are sadly mistaken.2 It covers a far more important, and more sinister, driver of our divisive politics: racism. The authors describe some of the incidents of hostility that began with President Obama announcing his campaign in 2007. These went far beyond vituperative e-mails and phone calls, and they were not directed exclusively at Obama. Indeed, most of them targeted ordinary black people. They also describe cases of ideologically-motivated violence, and report that the national media treated these incidents as isolated acts of nut cases, ignoring the common thread of incitement, and gave them only ephemeral coverage.
"That's because the mainstream media have their preferred narratives and stick to them like glue. The preferred narrative when it came to these violent acts committed by right-wing extremists was that these were all 'isolated incidents' with no connection, no set of radical belief systems that wove them together, and, most of all, nothing to connect them to the hyperbole from mainstream conservatives."
– Pages 65-66
John Amato and David Neiwert have covered the right-wing political scene for some years. Amato founded the popular blog Crooks and Liars, where Neiwert also contributes; Neiwert edits the blog Orcinus and is a print journalist.3
In this context, the phrase refers to inciting violence. All right-wing media talkers (and there are many) do it. But the prototype is Glenn Beck. One example: he promoted the lie about FEMA concentration camps, originated in the 1990s by militia groups, on his Fox network television show — even after Congressman Ron Paul told him his office could find no evidence of these camps. Finally on 6 April 2009, he hosted a ten-minute segment with Jim Meigs of Popular Mechanics, who identified the "detention center" in the videos Beck had been showing as an abandoned railway station.
Whether the fear is confiscating guns, "destroying the economy," or "socialism" (nebulously defined), it doesn't matter that no evidence for it can be found.4 The key is to keep repeating the warnings as often and as loudly as possible. All the right-wing talkers do this to some degree. But they're careful, so that if some unstable listener gets violent, it's always possible to say they didn't actually call for such an attack.
Such attacks have occurred in the recent past. The authors examine several. For a more complete list, refer to: Insurrectionism Timeline.
Apart from the general demonization of President Obama on right-wing talk radio (which represents 80 to 90 percent of talk radio in the U.S.) as a "socialist" whose policies aim at "destroying the country," there were specific topics that came in for special treatment. One was abortion. Here the Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly took center stage, focusing his condemnation on Wichita, KS physician George Tiller, who he repeatedly called "Tiller the baby killer." Scott Roeder, a long-time abortion protestor, shot Dr. Tiller at his church on 31 May 2009. Was O'Reilly complicit in this murder? Certainly not in a legal sense; and there's little evidence that Roeder was an avid listener to his show.
But the sort of demagogic demonization spouted by O'Reilly and his ilk lowers the cultural barriers against that sort of violence by unstable individuals. They do, therefore, bear a degree of moral culpability.
Who are these unstable individuals? A few of them are:
Beyond the rhetorical bomb-throwing, conservative talkers keep up a constant drumbeat of denigration against the president, Democratic members of Congress (and Republicans who aren't conservative enough) and liberal or progressive politicians in general. The current crop of right-wing politicians does so as well. It matters little that almost all of their so-called facts are fallacious; making the accusation is what matters. What gets lost in the permanent campaign is any semblance of responsible governing. Moderate sitting politicians are obstructed in the legislature; moderates runnning for election are denied party support, or opposed in primaries by someone blessed by the Tea Party.5 (Look up the examples of Lindsey Graham and Dede Scozzafava.)
These tactics have a similar effect on the voters. The authors describe the arguments over health care reform in the summer of 2009, when Tea Party activists (often transported to the meetings by from groups like Americans for Progress) disrupted town-hall forums discussing the issue.
A sign from Glenn Beck's 9/12 event in 2009
(page 152; colors added).
Our conservatives are innovative and resourceful...
This book is difficult to read, not because it is poorly written or filled with errors, but solely because of the sheer volume of right-wing idiocy it reports. That is a sequence of bogus facts, absurd conspiracy theories, vicious denunciations of "liberals" (most of whom are not notably left-leaning), and outraged protests of victimization when someone points out how the divisiveness they foster has led to actual violence. All this is difficult to read on page after page — but it is vital to read it, because the idiocy continues, day after day, and in continuing poses a threat to the way of life the conservatives profess to love and uphold. The book has a good index but no chapter notes. (Chapter notes for this book, most with URLs, went online 4 June 2010 at http://overthecliff.crooksandliars.com/ ). I recommend it highly, but don't consider it a keeper for most folks; things are moving too fast.