Looking back over the Sifts of 2011, I notice my increasing frustration with playing whack-a-mole against the spinmasters of the Right. More and more, pointing out specific lies, omissions, and mischaracterizations got relegated to the short notes. In the main articles, I tended to focus my attention on a more fundamental question: How do they do this? How has the Right managed to construct what David Frum has called its “alternate reality” and what can we do about it?
First, what do I mean by “alternate reality” (or, as I prefer to call it, Bizarro World)? I’m not talking about legitimate differences of political philosophy, but the black-is-white world where global warming is a hoax (perpetrated by any scientist not bankrolled by Exxon-Mobil), budget-cutting creates jobs, American Christians are a persecuted minority, the main victims of racism are white, the EPA is a threat to the economy, voter fraud is a bigger problem than voter suppression, Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim Marxist, workers would be better off if unions and government regulations stopped stifling the job-creating brilliance of the very rich, corporations like BP don’t need any environmental oversight, and so on.
I attacked a bunch of those things head-on in Six True Things Politicians Can’t Say, the year’s most popular post. Other specific issues got hit in Voter Suppression 101 and Blowing Smoke About Clouds.
But that’s just whack-a-mole on a higher level. The real question is why anybody takes Bizarro World seriously in the first place. Why should liberals have waste our energy arguing about, say, Obama’s birth certificate, when there was never any reason to doubt it?
In Confessions of a Centrist in Exile I pointed out one consequence of Bizarro World: The center is occupied territory now. Compromise is for honestly held points of view. But reality can’t compromise with unreality. People who want to solve a problem (like inequality or global warming) can’t compromise with people who say there is no problem. And honest real people can’t compromise with the corporate salesmen who would kill them to make a profit.
I addressed some the mechanisms that create Bizarro World in Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation: Oversimplifying just a little, corporate money has created a conservative echo chamber that can create “controversy” out of nothing. The mainstream media then feels it has to treat those claims as “controversial” even if they lack any semblance of reasonability. Since the Left will never be able to compete with the corporatists in money, we need to insist on reform inside the culture of the media. (Yesterday Hunter on Daily Kos expressed his dismay that “fact checking” is now a specialty: “nothing is more humiliating than the notion that our media is so incompetent at verifying facts that an entirely new sub-profession needs to be assigned to the task.”)
A second piece of Bizarro World is the corruption of academic research by corporate money, which I covered in Turning Marketshare into Mindshare.
In The Dog Whistle Defined I looked at another tactic: using code words in your public campaign to point to reprehensible commitments made privately. In Turn the Shame Around and Suck It Up: Using Our Pride Against Us I talked about the psychological hooks the 1% uses to co-opt many of the 99% — or at least to shut them up.
Finally, I tried to provide a counterframe in Eliminate the Work Penalty. Our current tax system taxes wages at a higher rate than money made by investing money, and the only current debate is on how much to increase that gap. We need to start calling these special rates for dividends and capital gains a “work penalty” and try to eliminate them completely.
Economics. A second theme of the year has been rethinking economics. (More about that in the Sifted Books of 2011.) Jobless Recoveries are Normal Now, Economics Works Backwards Now, and Jobs of the Future are the main posts on this theme. In a nutshell, our current ideas about economics require the rich to consume all kinds of crazy things so that the poor can have jobs making them. What if they don’t? What if the crazy things they decide to consume can be made without much labor? Or what if that level of consumption will kill the biosphere? Maybe we need to come up with some new way of connecting people with the resources they need to survive.
Obama. Finally, I’ve been trying to criticize the Obama administration without providing fodder for Republican alternatives that would even worse on the specific issue I’m criticizing. So I put my criticism of Obama’s political strategy (compromising with people who don’t want to compromise) into the fantasy conversation Barack, Can We Talk?. This was also part of the Bizarro World theme: “What we need from our Democratic president isn’t just a few more dollars for infrastructure or the unemployed, we need a defense of reality.”