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Fomenting the Fringe

April 16th, 2009

Did you hear? Obama is a socialist fascist, a new Hitler, who is trying to take away your guns and tax you out of existence. If you watch Fox News, this is probably old hat by now. But here’s the thing: you have a popular news network that seems dedicated to spreading not only lies, but ridiculously transparent lies about the president of the United States, while elected Republicans call for their supporters to be “armed and dangerous” (only later specified as dangerous politically as they are armed with “facts”) and that there should be a “revolution” (again, later qualified as a political revolution). There is even a whole movement, the followers of which, in comic obliviousness, call themselves “teabaggers,” dedicated to fighting a tax rebellion despite the fact that no taxes have been hiked yet, and the only ones promised are aimed at a small percentage of wealthy people.
In true ultraconservative style, a fictional ‘reality’ has been constructed for the public to consume and react to. The thing is, it is so absurdly ludicrous that only the idiot loons on the fringe are really buying into it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of idiot loons who will accept anything Fox spoon-feeds them. Percentage-wise, very small, but you don’t need double-digits to get followers numbering in the millions.

On the one hand, it all becomes somewhat comical, as these people are, let’s face it, stupid. So they wind up doing a lot of stupid things, like ordering a million teabags to dump somewhere, but forgetting to arrange for a place to symbolically dump them. You get people following the drumbeat without the faintest idea why they are doing it, so when they are asked “Why do you say that the President of the United States is a fascist?” the answer comes back, “Because he is!” Another anti-tax protester admonishes the president for not being more like Lincoln, without the slightest clue that Lincoln grew and empowered the government and instituted the first federal income tax.

On the other hand, we know all too well what happens when you instigate the lunatic fringe: some of them fall over the edge and start killing. That’s one reason that three police officers got killed–a fringe nutjob heard the Fox Noise drumbeat that Obama is going to ban guns, and reacted accordingly. With Fox broadcasting the socialist, fascist, Hitler, tax-hiker, gun-grabber rant as much as it is, that will most likely not be the last such incident. These are fringe wingnuts, but they are aggressive and well-armed lunatic wingnuts who respond well to calls for action.

Just a few years after right-wingers claimed that even mild dissent was a form of treason, the same (or a very similar) crowd is at the gates of the White House causing a lockdown while shouting death threats at the president, based on farcical charges that fall apart under even the slightest examination. You have people who cheered as Bush incurred ten trillion dollars in debt but now want blood and talk about “enslaving our children” and seceding from the union when Obama spends only a tenth as much debt for a far more focused and reasonable purpose. Most of the nation is letting it slide past, but the lunatic fringe is only becoming more and more inflamed and ready to act.

Question: at what point does this go beyond free speech and wander into the minefield of sedition? When “news” organizations spread easily disproved lies, equate their government to a horrific dictatorship, and tell the people to revolt, leading to violent acts, is that really not going beyond the “shouting fire in a movie house” standard?

  1. Tim Kane
    April 16th, 2009 at 19:43 | #1

    The country appears, at least in part, to have gone Wiemar.

    We have functioning democracy, laboring under the strain of an Economic Crisis, and we have radical right wing reactionaries, whose actions are enhanced by their economic fears, being manipulated by later day Goebbels over at Fox News.

    Given the reactionary style, part of this seems to be a reaction to their own growing irrelevancy.

    Fox News and the Freedom Foundation and other reactionary think tanks and foundations promoted this thing – as if to cry out: “See! We are still relevant!” “We want things our way, and if we don’t get them our way we’ll either revolt or succeed from the union!”

    That’s the hope anyway. That they are faiding into irrelevancy. This is, I think, a byproduct of what I have called Obama’s Rumpification of the rump of a rump of the Republican party. They are the wicked witch of the west that’s had water thrown on them. And they are bemoaning that they are melting out of existence.

    The problem, as this episode demonstrates, is that they still have far too much money and organization and media reach.

    I think liberals have to start considering a general boycott of Fox advertisers.

    There’s always the possibility that this is the Wiemar years of the Beer Hall Putsch (1923) instead of the early 1930s. The Beer Hall Putsch was a farce of an attempted coup and so Wiemar Germany was highly tollerant of the Nazi movement, allowing them to arrive at power ten years later. Eventually the rump needs to go out of business and the pool of funds that the allow the reactionary right to thrive needs to dry up, once and for all.

    My current thinking on this is that the Obama administration has too much on its plate right now and also the timing is not right. Going after the reactionary right right now would look like political payback which would reinforce and amplify the behavior (which is part of the reason Bush didn’t get impeached – it would have looked like political payback guaranteeing that the next Democratic President with Republican majorities would also be impeached as a reaction as well).

    I suspect, that Obama right now is happy to have them scare the majority of the Americans into the arms of the Democratic party. However, in a few years from now, he and his administration might choose to make systematic moves to have them surgically removed from the body politic once and for all. One way is simply reintroduce the fairness doctrine (this might require a constitutional amendment). This is Rush Limbaugh’s greatest nightmare, because it would put him and his ilk out of business overnight. Another move, I hope, will be to introduce campaign spending and contribution caps (by office: meaning candidates running for the office of Illinois’ 3rd congressional district will only be able to spend x dollars and individuals will only be able to contribute y total dollars to individuals running for that office).

    I am predicting that the next two election cycles will move more and more to the left, thanks in part to the skills of Obama. In the mean time the Republican party is becoming a truly frightening institution to behold.

  2. April 16th, 2009 at 19:57 | #2

    At the end of FY2000, before bush took office, the gross federal debt was $5,628.7B, 58% of GDP.
    At the end of FY2007, (last year I have handy), the gross federal debt was $8,950.7B, 65.5% of GDP.
    Total increase $3,322,044, 7.5% GDP over 7 years. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2009/pdf/hist.pdf, table 7.1)

    In just over 2 months, Obama and the new administration have spent $4169.7B, 28.9% of GDP.
    They have commited to $12798.1B, 88.8% of GDP.
    In 2 1/2 months. (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=armOzfkwtCA4&refer=worldwide)

    The largest increase in deficit Bush did in a single year was 2.8% from 2002-2003. Obama has hit 10 times that in less than 3 months. (same sources)

    This may well have been necessary, but to pretend that Bush’s spending was even vaguely in the same league as Obama’s is ridiculous. People fall for it because the numbers are so high as to defy comprehension.

  3. Luis
    April 17th, 2009 at 02:52 | #3


    I think liberals have to start considering a general boycott of Fox advertisers.

    As much as I agree with the sentiment, it would only give credence, however false and hollow, to their cries of fascist persecution–it would help them instead of hurt them. They will always have big money waiting to help them, in any case.

    The best thing to do is to either simply ignore them, or perhaps simply vigilantly point out what outrageous asses they are being–and when violence breaks out as it did in the slaying of the police officers, take note and don’t let them get away with the old “it had nothing to do with us” excuse.


    From the article you quoted as the source of $12.798 trillion:

    The following table details how the Fed and the government have committed the money on behalf of American taxpayers over the past 20 months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. [emphasis mine]

    Essentially, it would appear at least that you are blaming Obama for 17 months of Bush spending as well as three months of his own. And if I am not mistaken, most of the money was spent by Bush, and most of that was wasteful and without oversight.

    Add to that that you are only counting money that Bush already spent as opposed to all the money he committed us to spending in the future. You are also ignoring the fact that the %age was dropping before Bush took office, so his effect was more than just starting from a level point (which was 57.4%, BTW, Bush did not take office till 2001)–so we’re not just talking increase, we’re talking opportunity cost, which was HUGE. You may also be ignoring cumulative effects over 8 years, I’m not knowledgeable enough in Econ to make that determination. And, to top it all off, Bush’s spending was wasteful and pointless–giveaways to people who didn’t need it for the most part, doing little if anything to help and a lot to actually harm the economy. I could go on, but you get the picture. The claims of Obama’s reckless spending are a wee bit exaggerated.

  4. Luis
    April 17th, 2009 at 03:07 | #4

    By the way:

    Chart made from the PDF file you pointed me to. Red is for Republican administrations, blue for Democrats. See a pattern? Note, by the way, that the pattern follows changes in presidential administrations, and NOT control of Congress–debunking the long-held myth that Congressional Democrats were responsible for the big spending and debt during Reagan/Bush, and Republicans were responsible for decreasing the deficit during the Clinton years.

  5. April 17th, 2009 at 09:10 | #5

    Missed the 20 months thing when I read the article. My bad. Still trying to find solid numbers.

    I maintain that end-of year 2000 is an apropriate place to start. Deficit the day before he took office was $5,727,776,738,304.64, about right for 20 days later. I dont have GDP numbers that exact. (BTW – http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/BPDLogin?application=np ; seriously cool).

    Interestingly, none of the new administrations spending is showing up in the debt as far as I can see. Don’t understand how this works. Then again, I cannot find Iraq in the records either.

    Oh, and Clinton has long been my favorite president. An honest to goodness moderate and fiscal conservative? I want another one of those.

    But the most important part of this is – where did you get that chart?

  6. Tim Kane
    April 17th, 2009 at 09:46 | #6

    Not only did Bush squander the surpluss he was handed. But he didn’t create any jobs. From memory: Clinton created on the order of 20 million jobs (actually I think it was like 22 million). At one point Bush was credited with creating 5 million – but that’s before the implossion. I haven’t seen the final numbers yet. But I am quite sure that he netted almost no new jobs and to the extent that he netted any new job creation, it will be less than the number of new public sector jobs created during his tenure.

    Bush was a disaster in almost every conceivable way.

    He inherited a surplus. I remember at the time that they said if the surplus or budget remained balanced it would be paid off by 2012. Think about that.

    Something on the order of one third of the government’s budget goes to servicing debt. Once the debt was paid off, then you could have had REAL tax cuts. (you can’t have tax cuts when there’s a deficit – in that case the government is really providing you with a loan).

  7. Luis
    April 17th, 2009 at 16:45 | #7


    But the most important part of this is – where did you get that chart?

    In a way, you gave it to me. You linked to a White House document for the 2009 budget and referred to table 7.1. All I did was to take the data from the column you specifically referred to–gross federal debt as percentage of GDP–and pasted the data into Excel. Then I captured the chart as a pixel image and used Photoshop to color it in.


    I wish we could have looked at the debt being paid off–but frankly, I don’t think that would have happened. Even with Gore’s “lockbox,” there would be just too damned much pressure to cut people’s taxes; they seem to hate paying off the debt, as if it were not somehow related to them–I think that most people simply are not aware that they now pay about $500 billion each year–about $1650 per each and every American, much more for each taxpayer (counting 60 million taxpayers, $8,333) every year. Talk about a tax cut if that were eliminated!

    However, knowing politicians, they would soon squander any surplus–they just didn’t get much chance to. Or, one could say, they did–which is why we lost the surplus. But if Americans saw a surplus, some politicians would scream , “THAT’S YOUR MONEY!!!” like they did in 2000, and the voices for paying off the debt would be drowned out in the cacophony.

  8. Troy
    April 17th, 2009 at 17:33 | #8


    is where you can look up the deficit numbers.


    “In just over 2 months, Obama and the new administration have spent $4169.7B, 28.9% of GDP.”

    Do you have a brain in your head? Do you know how much money $4 trillion is? That’s $40,000 for every household in America. There wouldn’t be a recession any more if Obama had “spent” that much already.

    The rest of your missive is just more rightwing bullshit. Obama inherited this fiscal year from Bush, which ends Sept 30.

    And as mentioned above, what matters most with government spending is what capital improvements you get with it, and with deficits is what private investment you get. Bush’s wars and tax cuts resulted in both busting a balanced budget and a real estate con job that totally eclipses the one that caused Japan’s lost decade of the 1990s.

    Anyhoo, when looking at the debt don’t count the SSTF surplus, that’s debt by design and if that’s all we had we’d be doing good.

    Debt held by the public as of yesterday was $6.9T. Debt on 1/21/09 was $6.3T. That is indeed a massive increase of debt but the alternative could very well have been total fiscal meltdown and follow on events that would make the Great Depression events desirable.

    FWIW, the public debt on 9/30/01 was $3.3T, so Bush managed to double the public debt on his watch. Way to go, conservatives, for implementing policies that don’t work, as usual.

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