Apparently my assessment of Rupert Murdoch has not been quite on the money. I have always regarded him to be an exploitive right-wing buccaneer whose sense of propriety and decency is to taste what sewers are to haute cuisine. The plan hatched by the now Murdoch-controlled Discovery Channel to feature Sarah Palin narrating a series of travelogue programs about Alaska lent support to my reasonably informed opinion.
Bringing Sarah Palin before a camera to portray Alaska-the-place, given her well-known open-season attitudes about all things environmental — including all the live things, which she can’t shoot fast enough — does seem kind of like selecting, say, Mr. Enron, the late Ken Lay, to serve as Secretary of Energy. Whoops, I forgot, we almost did just that, remember? Kenny-Boy had a starring role in those secret energy policy meetings Dick Cheney held in the White House. Lay no doubt viewed conservation concerns in about the same way Palin views wolves and polar bears.
But then I learned that the new but not improved Discovery Channel had also aired Rob Blagojevich — so, perhaps Rupert is more an equal opportunity threat to enlightenment, good taste and decency than I thought him to be: The David Attenboroughs are out, the empty-headed celebrities are in. Well, America survived the yellow journalism of Hearst and Pulitzer — let’s hope it can survive this carpetbagger from Australia.
All of which brings me to the post-health care bill reaction from the right-wing crazies: death threats, urging fellow nut cases to toss bricks through office windows, expletive-laced phone messages sent to the representatives who voted for the bill. In the middle of all this contrived muck, direct from central casting, Rupert Murdoch presents us, once again, with Sarah Palin — she of the “death panels” and “we have them in our sights.” Today’s Prince of Yellow Journalism sends her out to spout inflammatory lines on cue (she does the “star burst” wink number on her own).
As if all this weren’t alarming enough, consider the recent Harris poll, which reports that two-thirds of Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believe he is a Muslim. Twenty-four percent agree that “he may be the Antichrist”; 45 percent agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president.” Thirty-eight percent of Republicans say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did.”
This wasn’t a poll of Tea Partiers or militiamen or brick throwers. This was a poll of Republicans!
And there’s more. Forty percent think that the President and the Democrats are controlled by Wall Street; yet, at the same time, they demand that their idea-challenged representatives oppose all Democratic efforts to regulate Wall Street — after all, they unreason, we can’t have socialism.
More than a few of these ranters have actually urged that Obama be assassinated. They all demonize him.
David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, put it most succinctly the other day when he said that Republicans used to think that Fox News worked for them; they have now discovered that they work for Fox News. If they got rid of Fox News, they’d lose their “base” (or what’s left of it).
Republicans typically work off their party lines du jour, and no one is permitted to go off the reservation. (Democrats have never seen a reservation they liked, which explains their party’s chronic disarray.) The party line that was chosen to deal with the right-wing crazies goes something like this: “Yes, all this nasty stuff is troubling — but — we must remember that these people are angry.”
Always the “but.” Which has the effect of justifying the conduct, thus indirectly promoting and encouraging those who hold these wildly ignorant beliefs and those who engage in intolerable public conduct.
Yes, much can be attributed to ignorance and, in the words of Horace Mann, “Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge.”
Ignorance, though, can’t explain everything away. Rupert Murdoch isn’t ignorant, but he exploits ignorance. And as for the very wealthy in America, those who seemingly have come to think that the pre-1929 marginal tax rates they now enjoy were handed down from God? They are egging on the ignorant, too.
Fear plays a part as well. Not only can’t these white men jump — and they know it — but they sense they are being benched by a smarty-pants black man, uppity women from Sin City, some aggressive homosexuals and a few noisy Jews. Egads, what’s a good ol’ boy to do?
The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr observed many decades ago that right-wing elites typically claim the poor and middle class as their allies against the plutocrats first, then turn around and seek an alliance with those very same plutocrats in their battle against changes that threaten the elites. They play these disparate groups against each other, then unite them by using the imagined threats embodied in all those “isms” — liberalism, progressivism, socialism, to name the most obvious contemporary targets.
The ignorant, fearful and angry, all urged on by self-serving elites — that makes for a toxic political brew.
Robert Herold is a political science professor at Gonzaga University.