Saturday, May 21, 2011

Idiots’ Delight

Well it’s that time of the month again. Time, once more, to highlight yet more brilliant examples of stupendous stupidity.

This month, however, will be different. One winner will bare the brunt of the scorn all on her own. It’s not that there weren’t other nominees who didn’t deserve the spotlight of shame; it’s just that, given the nature of the grievous act, I thought it appropriate to let it stand all on its own.

For well over a decade Erica Payne has been a tireless champion of progressive values and has fought against the lies of right-wing groups like the Tea Party. She founded the Agenda Project, which is a progressive-action group whose stated goal is to “return normal Americans to the center of the policy debate by cultivating an understanding of public policy, facilitating common action, and connecting the best ideas and the strongest leaders with engaged citizens, elected officials, the media, political insiders, and experts through a variety of in-person and on-line platforms.”

One of the campaigns of Agenda Project is “Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength”, a petition to President Obama signed by millionaires who demanded that the Bush tax cuts be allowed to expire for those earning $1 million or more. Payne herself has been critical of Obama for meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and for ignoring his liberal base and pandering to Congressional Republicans. Whether you agree with Payne’s views or not, she is, if nothing else, someone who brings integrity to the discussion.

And that’s why it was so frustrating to see Payne and her group dive into the same corrosive cesspool of hate as their opponents with this latest attack ad against the Paul Ryan budget, which depicts a grandmother being thrown off a cliff by someone who bares a strong resemblance to Ryan to the strands of “America the Beautiful.” Dick Armey couldn’t have done a better job of demagoguery.

The ad was slimy and disgusting and went completely over the line. And the saddest thing of all was that the tactics employed in the ad were totally unnecessary to drive home the point it was attempting to make. The ad accurately denotes that more than half of Americans on Medicare live on less than $28,000 a year and that under the Paul Ryan plan, which calls for the privatization of the program, seniors will be given a voucher with which to purchase medical insurance. Of course if the voucher doesn’t quite cover the cost of the insurance, oh well.

That’s the tragedy here. Payne had the moral high ground without having to resort to this sort of fear mongering. By throwing grandma off the cliff, Payne not only ceded that moral high ground among many whom otherwise would be supportive and sympathetic to her stance, she allowed the very people who really should be running for the hills, politically speaking, to play the victim card and “reframe” an argument they know all too well they can’t possibly defend.

Payne, like so many on the Left, has drawn the wrong conclusion from the ’09 summer of madness, where Astroturf Tea Party townhall meetings attempted to thwart Democratic plans to reform healthcare through shouts of death panels, socialism and flat out lies and distortions. The “kill grandma” theme became a central tenant for the GOP to frighten seniors into believing that healthcare reform would mean that government bureaucrats would deny them vital coverage needed to keep them alive. It was shameless.

Well apparently Payne has adopted the classic axiom that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Equally shameless! If the Left thinks it is going to win the day by one-upping the Right in fear mongering, I have some bad news for it. It isn’t going to work.

While it may be tempting for some to believe that the tactics employed by the Right during the healthcare reform debates were successful, it’s important to remember that in spite of them, the reform bill eventually became law. The reason the Right engaged in such a heated and disgraceful campaign of lies and innuendos was because they knew they didn’t have the facts on their side. Without the moral high ground, their only hope was to frighten the ignorant enough to derail the whole process. They failed.

Now while Republican gains in Congressional and gubernatorial races in 2010 may have led many to conclude that the deception employed in ’09 eventually paid dividends, the truth is that it was economy, far more than healthcare, that drove many voters away from Democrats and into the waiting arms of the GOP. And, as is typical for Republicans, they almost always end up looking a gift horse in the mouth. Their over-reaching and far-right ideology is scaring many of those same voters away from them even as we speak. The Ryan budget is so far out of the mainstream of the electorate that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t even press his own caucus to vote for it when Harry Reid brings it to the floor this month. While publicly they may support it, privately to a man and woman they know it will be an albatross around their necks when they run for reelection in 2012.

So why on Earth, with all the momentum going their way, would Payne and her group elect to go with a failed strategy and risk alienating independent voters? Only they seem to know. But one thing is certain. Fighting fire with fire not only doesn’t work, it almost always succeeds in burning down the whole damn house. And that would be unforgivable, given what’s at stake next year.

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