Friday, September 18, 2009


"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag

and carrying a cross."


Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, 1935


Fascism, I fear, is coming to America.  It has been wrapped in a flag and is being promoted by those carrying a cross…and a gun.  Those in the vanguard include the dangerously deluded like Glenn Beck, the cynically manipulative like Frank Luntz and Rush Limbaugh, and the anonymous wealthy ideologues who have – sans accountability – financed downright scary full-page ads in hundreds of newspapers.  And marching behind them is a growing army of true believers whipped into a frenzy by those who have stoked irrational fears with a steady diet of delusional rhetoric and outright lies.


And they are being enabled by the very people and organizations that we depend on to defend truth and reasoned discourse – the newspapers and broadcast media of our Fourth Estate.  Witness the full page ads of the so-called "U.S. Citizens Association" that were carried on August 26 by the Vallejo Times-Herald, the Contra Costa Times and hundreds of other papers from New York to Dallas.  Why was it that the working journalists of the Times-Herald asked no questions about the nature of the  "U.S. Citizens Association" that appeared out of nowhere just a few weeks earlier. Why no questions about the people and finances (presumably hundreds of thousands of dollars) behind the ad?  Why no discussion on the news pages about the over-the-top nature of the lies.  If we're going to be propagandized, don't we have the right to know who's writing the propaganda and who's paying for it.


Our political debate about health care reform is awash in hidden money that has crowded out other, less affluent, less reasoned voices.  This has distorted the debate to the detriment of democracy.  As the eminent political scientist T. H. Marshall has written, "the right to freedom of speech has little real substance if, from lack of education, you have nothing to say that is worth saying, and no means of making yourself heard if you say it."  I hope I have something worth saying and can hope to have these few words printed in the Times-Herald.  But I cannot buy a full page ad in hundreds of papers.  I can write letters to Senator Max Baucus and the fellow members of his "Gang of Six."  But I cannot buy the face-to-face access that the health industry has bought with the $1.5 million it has given to Senator Baucus or the $150 million it has devoted to its campaign to defeat health care reform.    


The result has been a cynical replaying of the shameful "swiftboating" of John Kerry…the same people, the same money, the same level of lies, the same emotional manipulation.  This time, however, it has reached truly dangerous proportions.  How else to describe the anti-government rantings of Beck, the jocular racism of Limbaugh, the calls for secession and revolution by wing-nut politicians, the conscious distortion of the health reform debate by others who find it amusing to scare our seniors with made-up lies about "death panels" and "pulling the plug on grandma?"  Where is our Joseph Welch to say to Senator Coburn or Senator Grassley "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?


Political debate has been replaced by Madison Avenue-style manipulation reminiscent of Orwellian "Newspeak."  Why not?  1984 was twenty-five years ago.  We have become inured to words that have lost their true meaning, accustomed to being motivated not by thoughts, but by emotional stimuli.  Frank Luntz gives the objects of his studies little dials and tracks their emotional responses to particular words and phrases and, from those studies, designs pre-packaged stimuli – phrases like "death panels" - designed for maximum effect.  To hell with right and wrong, truth and falsehood, left or right.  It's downright Pavlovian! 


The danger to our democracy has become imminent.  How else to describe a situation in which it has become commonplace for people to show up at political events with a pistol strapped to a leg or an assault rifle slung over a shoulder; in which it has become acceptable to shout down your elected officials and fellow citizens with canned talking points?  Who are we to turn to to say "Enough!"


Where are our media?  Where are our churches?  Where are our other ethical watchdogs?  All of them, I fear, are missing in action.


Take the media.  Fox has staked out the right.  MSNBC has staked out the left.  And CNN has staked out Michael Jackson.  Radio has become a right wing echo chamber and network television a wasteland of mindless bread-and-circus. 


And then there are the churches?  Where, I've often wondered, are the voices from the pulpit?  Watching the Sunday morning televangelists of a prosperity Gospel that Jesus wouldn't recognize, you too might wonder.  But there are worthy voices like that of Sojourners' Jim Wallis ( and Tikkun's Michael Lerner (  Perhaps in response to the anger, hate, and lies, those voices are growing more numerous and bolder.  Listen to one such voice, that of my sister Episcopal deacon, Laina Casillas:


"Jesus would not tell us we cannot afford to help the sick.  Jesus would not tell us that the decision as a people to tend the sick is somehow government conspiracy to enslave the citizenry or euthanize the weak.  This ought to be pretty simple.  Perhaps we ought to try asking first questions first.  Instead of jumping to, "What should insurance and health care systems look like in America?" I think we ought to ask, 'What is our common agreement as to what we regard to be decent living conditions for the citizens of America?  What policies are consistent with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which we all claim as the standard to which we aspire in our conduct as a country?'  As Christians and as all faithful citizens of America, I think it would be most helpful to begin with agreement upon a common level of decency as regards the health needs of our people."


As a Christian and a faithful citizen of America, I ask you to put aside, the anger, the hate, the lies and distortions and to ask these "first questions" as we go forward.  The stakes are high.  It can happen here! 


1 comment:

  1. Wow, that was succinct and to the point! Here here!!!

    The real problem is we only have two choices: Democrats and Republicans and they both fall very short of what our Nation requires at this sensitive point in our history.....