Thursday, December 30, 2010

Who's Un-American?

I try to avoid paying attention to the increasingly hateful rhetoric of right wing talk radio and Fox News television personalities. I recognize they are in the business of making money by appealing to people who want to believe they are somehow more American than other Americans and that all the problems we face are caused by people who are not like them. Rush and others have a remarkable ability convince listeners right wing pundits have command of secret, inside knowledge, wisdom or mental agility to interpret events through a lens of conservative, libertarian, or patriotic principals. In their narrative all other media and points of view are biased, left wing, socialist, or just plain wrong. They are creating an alternative view of American history, an alternative view of the world. There is a word for what they are engaged in: propaganda.

It upsets me to hear untruths being presented as facts and to hear respectable, hard working Americans giving service to their country being maligned and nefarious motives being attributed to them. Targets are many and I won’t list them, but the biggest target is the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

There is, apparently, nothing President Obama can do that would meet with their approval. Limbaugh, on Thanksgiving Day expressed shock that Obama had the nerve to make a proclamation on Thanksgiving. Ronald Reagan made one, as did Clinton; before a bill establishing it as a national holiday in 1941, most presidents did. Obama should not have, in Limbaugh’s eyes, proclaimed Thanksgiving Day “a time each year, dating back to our founding, when we lay aside the troubles and disagreements of the day and bow our heads in humble recognition of the providence bestowed upon our Nation.”  Nor does Limbaugh think he should have asked us to “reflect on the compassion and contributions of Native Americans, whose skill in agriculture helped the early colonists survive, and whose rich culture continues to add to our Nation's heritage.” Limbaugh lauds Washington’s proclamation in 1786, since it makes many references to thanking God, but doesn’t reference Native Americans (Reagan’s does). Interestingly, Limbaugh, who complains that Obama “believes America is fatally flawed” and shouldn’t “apologize for America,” doesn’t mention that Washington also recommends citizens ask God “to pardon our national and other transgressions” in his original Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Limbaugh calls the traditional Thanksgiving story in which we acknowledge the help given to the Pilgrims by Native Americans and applaud their joint celebration of the harvest a myth. “Is it possible he (Obama) actually believes it?” Limbaugh asks. “The true story of Thanksgiving,” Limbaugh says, “is socialism failed.”
If Jon Stewart or a Saturday Night Live sketch had made a similarly outrageous statement I’d be rolling on the floor laughing. Comedy uses the absurd for laughs, but people take Rush and others like him seriously. He influences the way people vote, the way members of congress and senators make decisions. Bill O’Reilly recently opined that Fox News is the most powerful news organization in the world. These guys aren’t looking for laughs, they want power, and radio and television are powerful instruments for promoting propaganda.

In talking about Thanksgiving, Limbaugh emphasizes that in the years following the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving feast, they learned that individuals would produce more if given their own plot of land than if working in a common plot. “Only when we turned capitalist did we have plenty. The Indians didn't teach us capitalism,” Rush observes.

But that we should worship unbridled capitalism is not Rush’s main point. He is upset that President Obama gives any credit to Native Americans for their contribution to America (instead of crediting self-reliant white Europeans). Rush mocks Obama’s words, saying the contribution of Native Americans is limited to their casinos and reservations. Rush and others like to scream that Obama hates America or is un-American. What’s un-American is Rush Limbaugh’s suggestion that the President of the United States should not be encouraging the American people to be thankful on Thanksgiving. What’s un-American is Rush Limbaugh’s racism towards Native Americans and other groups and his and others unending attack on the American government when it is in the hands of Democrats. What’s un-American is Republicans who with Rush’s encouragement make their first priority to regain power even if it means slowing the recovery, hurting those who have lost jobs in a severe recession by discontinuing their unemployment compensation, delaying important judicial and other needed government appointments, and putting the nation’s security at risk to do so (not ratifying the nuclear arms treaty). What’s un-American is resorting to propaganda instead of engaging in civil discourse.

In this holiday season, we should give thanks that we have access to many sources of information so we can seek a truly balanced viewpoint of the news of the day.

this essay was published December 18, 2010 in the Charleston Gazette 

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