Friday, February 20, 2015

Fake Barry Quotes

Well, this is ... interesting.  One of my right-wing acquaintances from high school posted it to his wall last night, and I was immediately suspicious, but I don't own a copy of The Audacity of Hope, and it wasn't available as an e-book from the library, so I just made a note to check in the morning.

I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been totally fabricated, but it wasn't, not quite.  But it's still a lie.  Here's the actual passage from The Audacity of Hope, page 261, with the key passage emboldened.
Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern.  In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arabs and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging.  They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.
That's Senator Obama, before he became President, talking about interacting with some of his constituents, Arab-Americans and Pakistani-Americans but evidently citizens, who were understandably nervous that their government might stick them in a concentration camp and confiscate their property as it did American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; or disappear them and send them to be tortured in other countries, as it did do with some Americans during the War on Terror; or just stand by while they were lynched by their Christian fellow citizens.  Obama wanted them to know that he would stand by them if "the political winds" blew in that direction, though I don't know how much his word on that was worth.

Whoever produced this meme wanted people to believe that Obama had pledged to side with Muslims elsewhere in the world, and to think of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS as the Muslims he'd side with.  I've noticed a number of my right-wing acquaintances having ragegasms (a word I swiped from Joan Walsh, writing on another topic) over what they view as Obama's refusal to do anything about ISIS.  It takes a very well-disciplined memory to believe such a thing, given the thousands of foreign Muslims whose blood is on Obama's hands, given his characterization of ISIS as a "vicious death cult," given his bombing of the areas that ISIS now controls, and given his request for a new resolution from Congress authorizing him (and his successor, whoever it turns out to be) to wage war against certain Muslims in perpetuity.  They wouldn't be satisfied, I suppose, even if he personally disemboweled every single Muslim in the world, because really their rage has nothing to do with what he actually says or does -- it's about the Barack Hussein Obama they've invented and nurtured in their minds.  Sure, racism has a lot to do with it, and it feeds their derangement, but they'd hate him almost as much if he were white.  His real crime is being Not-a-Republican, but even there I'm baffled by the intensity of their anger.

Such people are not, I think, anywhere close to being a majority of Americans, or even of American voters.  But there are a lot of them, and it's scary being in the same country, the same world with them.  They love fantasizing about certain people being slaughtered as messily as possible -- preferably brown- or olive-skinned people, preferably non-English-speaking, preferably dressed differently than Real Americans dress, but again this is not mandatory, just more fun.  You can see them frothing at the keyboard in the comments sections of many local newspaper websites, because they think someone got away with something, and they want that person torn to shreds on live TV.  I remember a couple of years ago, for example, some kid ran out onto a professional sports field during a game; he was grabbed, restrained, removed, and probably arrested.  The newspaper site where I saw this story exploded with enraged comments from people who wanted that kid dead. Even a fairly liberal man I know personally huffed to me about the danger the kid allegedly posed to somebody by doing what he did; he didn't want the kid publicly burned alive, but he still was more upset by the event than I thought strictly reasonable.

As I say, being non-white isn't required to be a the target of this free-floating frenzy of hatred.  Nor is this phenomenon restricted to elderly Republicans.  All you have to do is "misuse" the word "hopefully," or misspell a word, or say "nukular" instead of "nuclear," or commit any number of other linguistic crimes against humanity, and liberal / progressive / left people will go completely bonkers.  The flip side of the GOP ragegasms is the ragegasms of liberals, who are flooding Facebook with memes and articles about the stupidity and subhumanity of people who watch Fox News, or commit other atrocities, like having "too many" children.  Or showing insufficient adoration of POTUS, Blessed Be He.  Jeb Bush made a poor showing in his recent national security speech, stumbling on pronunciation and getting facts wrong.  To those on the same team, this shows what an unaffected, regular guy he is -- as when Obama starts dropping g's and pronouncing oil as ole; to those on the other team, it shows he's an idiot.  Daily Kos sends out daily e-mails of their own "recommended" stories that I rarely click through, especially as they consist mostly of clickbait that fits the pattern I'm describing: titles like "Hilarious full page ad in NYT skewers Boehner" and "Hilariously stupid Fox response to Bill Reilly's lies."  As I've said before, just because Republicans are stupid doesn't mean Democrats are therefore smart.  If anything, it looks to me like Democrats are getting dumber as they obsess over the dumbness of the Rethuglicans.  And not only does this not make Republicans (or Democrats) any smarter, it seems to make things worse as more and more political "discourse" is adapted to this mode.

(One milder version of the syndrome, but I think it's part of it nonetheless, are the people who comment simply "ugh" or "Disgusting" on what they disapprove.  They're just getting warmed up.)  I remember well from the 1960s the fury inspired in many Americans by the hippies, which I think was plausibly explained as their resentment that other people were getting away with refusing to join the rat race as they had done, to live an unhappily constrained, boring, frustrating life as they'd consented to do; of course they wanted to see the slackers and rebels punished.  Why this carries over to Obama, as it carried over to Bill Clinton, I don't know, but it seems to be the same pattern: the Two Minutes' Hate.  The important thing is that the target is on the Other Team, and so those on Our Team are free to do and say whatever they like.  Especially if you know in advance they won't (or can't) fight back.

In the greater scheme of things, though, hate and love, extremism and moderation are beside the point. The satirist Andy Borowitz wrote ironically today:
Critics Rip Obama's Refusal to Fight Hate with Hate
WASHINGTON - A rising chorus of Congressional critics are blasting President Obama for what one of them called "his stubborn refusal to fight a war on hatred by using additional hatred." According to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), "Islamic terrorists are fueled by hatred, and the only way to end that cycle of hatred is by adding more hatred." Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) agreed with Cruz, adding, "The United States of America is blessed with enormous reserves of hate, and President Obama is willfully refusing to tap them." Graham also ripped Obama for "pointlessly seeking the root causes of hate," adding, "No problem was ever solved by finding out what was causing it."
I think Borowitz missed the deeper irony here; like his right-wing opposite numbers, he thinks Obama is, if not a pacifist, then at least really nice.  In the real world, Obama intends to fight hate with Christian love, as the Bushes, Clinton, and Reagan did: he will bomb you, incinerate you, kill and torture you and your children, starve you, drive you into exile -- all in a spirit of Christian love! Praise Jesus!  Christianity is a religion of peace!  I'm sure the dead, charred, maimed, orphaned and widowed will feel so much better to know that they were done in, not by a hateful Republican Bible-thumper, but by a loving Democratic Bible-thumper.  Love makes all the difference.

There are those who, like Obama, want to distinguish between some supposedly pure, pristine ur-Christianity or Islam and the bad impure "extremists" who are trying to steal these religions from their true, moderate owners.  Even if you set aside Jesus' parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in which Lazarus watches the torment of the damned in Hades from Abraham's, um, side, the teachings of Jesus are full of what should by now be a very familiar wish to see certain people get what's coming to them, namely the worm that is not sated and the fire that is not quenched.  For all the talk of love in the gospels, it's exactly balanced by the fantasies about punishment, punishment without limit, punishment that makes eye-for-an-eye look absurdly benign by comparison.

I'm sure I needn't point out that this is neither new or an American (or for that matter Christian) invention.  Think of Christians killed in the Roman arenas.  Think of the American Indian torture of captives for "spiritual" reasons, in public, for the edification of the audience.  Not everyone went to public torture or executions, but many did, and they were the spiritual ancestors of those who publicly call for the blood of those they consider it safe to hate.  And you don't really need to go see the actual executions: you can sit at home, yelling at the TV, posting vindictive garbage on your Facebook account. To quote again Walter Kaufmann's paraphrase of Freud, "Not only is the criminal a human being like you, but you, alas, are like the criminal."  I'm not excluding myself here.  I suppose one reason I'm so disturbed by the murderous fury of these people is that I recognize myself in it too.  But it can be, must be, resisted.