Thursday, April 25, 2013

How the GOP's Disinformation Campaign Could Tarnish Obamacare


Like many progressives, I've never been a big fan of the Affordable Care Act. After all, in many ways, it's really nothing more than a warmed-up revision of the Heritage Foundation/GOP health care proposal from the 1990s.

However, given the awful state of the current bloated, inefficient U.S. health care system, Obamacare is bound to be an improvement (if only because it's impossible for the system to be much worse than it is now).

And if Obamacare improves access to health care for millions of Americans, it will pose a big problem to the GOP in elections for years to come.

The GOP, of course, is aware of this. And as a result, we can expect the GOP to step up its ongoing disinformation campaign against Obamacare.

You've got to give Republicans credit for one thing: the GOP does a masterful job of spreading disinformation. We saw this in 2003 with the torrent of lies that got the U.S. into the Iraq War fiasco. We also saw this with the Swift Boat lies that helped sink John Kerry's 2004 campaign. We continue to see it with the "Birther" nonsense.

To this day, millions of Americans continue to believe that Obama was born in Kenya and that Saddam attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

The Great GOP Noise Machine excels at spreading lies and disinformation. And it's clear that as Obamacare's full implementation date approaches, we'll see the GOP's lies and propaganda rise to a fever pitch.

I believe this could be devastatingly effective in tarnishing the Affordable Care Act, even if Obamacare turns out to be a success.

The problem is, the current health care system is a terrible mess. Many people are deeply unhappy with it. And now, any time anyone has any problems whatsoever with their health care, Obamacare will become a handy catch-all scapegoat.

A recent incident made me realize the obstacles Obamacare faces in countering the GOP disinformation war.

An elderly woman I know recently visited a hospital here in Texas. She had a routine checkup. There were no problems and everything went well.

However, she said she was upset and angry.

"As I was getting ready to leave the hospital, some agents from Obamacare came and started asking me questions," she told me.

"Agents from Obamacare?" I asked.

"Yeah, they were agents from Obamacare. They wanted to ask me questions. I told them to shove it and I immediately left the hospital."

I was curious. What was she talking about? Granted, this was someone who was a hard-core, Obama-hating Republican. Day after day, she marinated her brain in the toxic stew of Fox News/Drudge/talk radio filth. As is the case with other Tea Baggers, nothing she said ever surprised me.

But agents from Obamacare? That had me wondering.

I wound up calling the hospital in question. It turns out that the hospital had hired a survey company to ask patients a few questions about the quality of their care.

Somehow, in the mind of this Limbaugh-listening woman, this survey company had morphed into sinister "Agents from Obamacare."

How could such amazing disinformation come about? It shouldn't really be surprising. After all, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin railed in 2009 on about Obamacare's "death panels." And Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently urged a repeal of Obamacare "before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."

I'm get the feeling that the "agents from Obamacare" incident could just the tip of an iceberg.

I was further reminded of this during a recent visit to my insurance agent to discuss my health-care plan. My insurance company is one of the largest companies in America. With Obamacare's full implementation nearing, I had a few basic questions about its impact on my current health-care plan.

Incredibly, my insurance agent knew nothing about Obamacare's impact on my policy. He was unable to answer any questions I had. Instead, he quickly steered the conversation to a Rush Limbaugh-like attack on Obamacare and on Obama himself.

"It's a mess," he said. "Mitch McConnell was right when he said Obamacare is a failure."

I thought about asking my insurance agent how he knew the Affordable Care Act was a "failure" if he knew nothing about it. But I let it pass.

Later, with a few clicks on the Web, I was able to quickly get answers to my Obamacare question. But still, it irked me that my insurance agent had made zero effort to educate himself about Obamacare's impact on his customers' health-care plans. Whatever his political views were (and it was obvious he was a Limbaugh Dittohead) he owed it to his customers to inform himself about the law.

These two incidents give a glimpse into what Obamacare is up against. I'm sure similar incidents like this are playing out millions of times a day across the country.

As the Affordable Care Act comes into force, anyone who ever has had any complaint at all about their health care will tend to instinctively blame Obamacare. And (as the "agents of Obamacare" incident shows) even people who don't have any problems with their health care coverage will still find reasons to attack Obamacare.

The whole thing could become a public relations nightmare for Obama and the Democrats.

After all, the woman who told me about "Obamacare agents" herself actually had no complaints about her health care coverage. She was, after all, covered by Medicare. Although after talking to her, I realized that she (like many Tea Party types) had no idea that Medicare is a government program.

Sigh. So much ignorance, so little time.

The problem is, a lot of Americans simply aren't very bright. Blame it on our abysmal public schools. Blame it on our terrible news media. But whatever the reason, the fact is, tens of millions of America are likely to blame Obamacare for anything and everything (even if they benefit from its provisions).

In the battle of public opinion, Obamacare still faces a steep uphill battle. Thanks to GOP lies and disinformation, a lot of Americans could well be convinced that Obamacare is a bad thing, even if the program succeeds.

Obamacare should be a signature victory for President Obama and the Democrats to rally voters in future elections. But, instead, it could well be a millstone around the necks of the Democrats for years to come.

Such is life in 21st century America: a nation in decline, where tens of millions of Americans are profoundly misinformed---and where the GOP does its utmost to ensure that people remain ignorant.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why Today's "Stealth" Bigots Are Worse Than Old-School Racists


In a perfect society, there would be no bigots and no racism. Of course, America will never be mistaken for a perfect society. And despite our national delusion that we've become a "colorblind" society that has moved beyond racism, the truth is more complex.

In some ways, it's actually harder to fight racism these days in America than it was, say, 30 years ago. For one thing, a lot of people (particularly Republicans) deny that racism even exists today. In fact, most of these people insist that white people are the "victims" of racism.

In the old days, foes of racism had clear-cut targets and goals. Fighting for African-Americans to be able to vote in the Deep South of the 1960s was no picnic---but at least it was a concrete, clear-cut goal to work toward.

But these days, the fight against racism is more complex. It's more difficult to fight racism when vast numbers of white Americans deny that it even exists these days.

The fact that shockingly high numbers of African-Americans are locked up in prison? Nope, there's no racism in today's America.

The fact that African-Americans still are much more likely to live in poverty than white Americans? Nope, there's no racism in today's America.

The firestorm of (idiotic) controversy about President Obama's birth certificate? Nope, there's no racism in today's America.

Back in the old days, bigots were at least upfront and honest about their racism. I recall during my younger years growing up in the small towns of Texas, I knew many "old school" bigots. These people had no problem with openly using the "N" word. They openly expressed their contempt for "n*ggers."

I recall a sad scene that I witnessed in 1983 in Fort Worth, Texas, while I was working as a truck driver. While I was unloading a truck, a fellow employee was talking to his two children, "instructing" them about the "ways of the world."

"N*ggers don't work in this country," he said. "They all sit around collecting welfare. Come welfare day once a week, they all jump into their Cadillacs and drive up to the welfare office. Never forget, kids, n*ggers are the real problem in this country."

It was sad to see this middle-aged bigot poisoning the minds of his young kids.

But sometimes, I actually prefer old-school bigots like that to today's new breed of "stealth" bigots. You've got to give credit to the old-school bigots: at least they were honest and upfront about their racism. After all, we do (allegedly) live in a "free" society. If people want to be racist, that's their right.

Then there are the "stealth" bigots, who are becoming increasingly common in today's America.

You've met these "stealth" bigots yourself. They're full of quietly simmering hostility toward minorities. They routinely listen to Rush Limbaugh's racist spewings. They're the ones who're always forwarding to you unsolicited right-wing mass emails (which often feature shockingly bigoted and racist content). And yet, they always get angry and indignant if you suggest that they're racist in any way.

I once had an acquaintance who routinely raged about how minorities were "ruining" America. He routinely spewed the "N" word in private, but took care to avoid saying it in public. And he fiercely denied being a racist in any way.

Once, I was arguing with him about why America was facing financial ruin. I pointed out to him that a good part of the reason for America going broke is our ruinous wars, like Vietnam and Iraq, which cost America trillions.

But my acquaintance was having none of it. "The reason we're going broke is because of welfare going to nigglets in places like Detroit," he said.

I pointed out to him that this was not only wrong, but racist. "You do realize that the word "n*gger" is racist, don't you?" I said.

"I didn't say n*gger," he responded with a straight face. "I said nigglet."

So it goes when dealing with today's "stealth" bigots. Of course, these people have mastered their craft of "stealth" bigotry at the knee of their heroes like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the bigoted right-wing media.

Limbaugh, of course, is the master of "stealth" bigotry. This is a guy who has made an art form of skillfully dancing around the "N" word.

Limbaugh has never actually used the "N" word on his show. But he very carefully packs as much racist content into each program by skillfully using code words and "dog whistle" phrases, while pushing all the right emotional hot buttons of white working class males who are angry with their declining standards of living and eager to find a scapegoat.

Limbaugh is hardly alone in his stealth bigotry. You hear a lot of this same sort of subtle racism across the entire sewer hole of 24-hour U.S. right-wing talk radio. You also hear it on the likes of Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere. Spend some time at some of these right-wing sites and you quickly come to the realization that racism is as bad today as it's been in decades in America.

The likes of Limbaugh and Fox News show how in some ways its more difficult today to fight racism than it was years ago. After all, back in the 1970s, racist bigots often simply shared their views by word of mouth. Back then, they didn't have their own 24-hour news channels and national talk radio networks to spread their filth.

I have nothing but contempt for these new-school "stealth" bigots. If you're going to be a racist bigot in America, go ahead and put on the white sheet and openly use the "N" word. Be honest and upfront about your bigotry. But please, please, don't dance around the "N" word and pollute your mind with Limbaugh and Fox News and use words like "n*gglet" and then claim with a straight face that you're not a racist bigot.