Smile Politely


I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Maher’s recent screed about how dumb we are: 

On the eve of the Iraq War, 69% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Four years later, 34% still did. Or take the health care debate we’re presently having: members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and “listen to their constituents.” An urge they should resist because their constituents don’t know anything. At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways.

There must be something about being out of power that frees you from the traditional constraints of logic, decency or sanity. A significant minority of the country seems untethered from all three since Obama was elected.

First up: those adorable Birthers. It’s downright inspiring how dedicated the Birthers are to their brand of crazy. To believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and therefore not eligible to be president, you have to believe that:

  • His Hawaiian Certificate of Live Birth is forged.
  • Both of his birth announcements in Honolulu’s newspapers were faked, even though they came from the Department of Health.
  • The director of the Hawaii Department of Health, who has personally verified Obama’s original Birth Certificate, is lying.
  • All the other people who have physically seen the Birth Certificate are lying.
  • Obama’s unwealthy father flew his 9-month pregnant wife to a politically troubled Kenya in order to give birth in Mombasa, which was neither his home nor in Kenya at the time, and then flew her and baby back within a few days, during a time when air travel was expensive, long and tedious.

Despite this, the Birthers were actually getting some traction. As of the end of the July, 58% of Republicans either believed Obama was not born in the US (28%) or weren’t sure (30%). But, as happens when people get too excited, they overreached when someone created a fake Kenyan birth certificate for Obama.  Now anyone can get a fake Kenyan birth certificate by going to So go get one — it’s all the rage, so to speak.

Next up: The Teabaggers. Silent during 8 years of massive government deficits in the service of unjustified war and tax breaks to the wealthy, they are suddenly very, very angry that government money is being used to … stimulate the economy. They sent teabags to Congress, because teabags, of course, symbolize taxation without representation, and also Obama is a socialist because he is raising taxes 3% on those in the top 5% of the tax bracket, tyranny the like of which we have not seen since King George repressed the colonists.

Or something like that. The only thing we know for sure is that they are really, really angry about the civic responsibility of paying taxes. Also, we know that they gather in public, tax-supported parks to air their grievances.

Finally, there are the Astroturfers. Crazed mobs are now disrupting town hall meetings around the country and yelling angry, senseless things, almost as if they were at a Palin rally. They are not so cute. In lieu of an actual, civilized debate about health care reform, they are hanging congressman in effigy and trying to convince everyone that the government is going to start killing old people. It’s as incoherent as it is insufferable. As Krugman points out:

“There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.”

No partisan discussion is complete, however, until someone brings up the Nazis. Not to worry, Astroturfers and Rush Limbaugh have come through, and are now equating Obama with Hitler. But who can blame them, since the comparison between healthcare reform and genocide is so natural and obvious?

And not to be outdone, even Sarah Palin herself weighed in, claiming that baby Trig will have to go before a death panel of bureaucrats to plead for his life. I now have my own Bill Maher-style New Rule: No partisan discussion is complete until one side claims the other is trying to kill baby Trig.

To be fair a lot of these crazies are the same people, and not all of them are Republicans. Moderate Republicans, if there is such a thing these days, have at least stuck by their old mantra: the government can’t do anything right, so it shouldn’t be involved in healthcare. It’s not much of an argument, but you have to admire their slavish obedience to their ideology. Even Bill Kristol can’t defend it in front of Jon Stewart:


In fact, this whole line of reasoning that government is bad and can’t do anything well reminds me of a scene in Life of Brian:



So, what can we learn from all this?  I’m not saying that Republicans are crazy and dumb, nor am I saying that they are responsible for all the dumb things people in their mobs think and do. All I’m saying is that their best argument against healthcare has reduced them to being the People’s Front of Judea. And if you promise to really, really hate the government, they will probably let you write angry graffiti on the town walls too.

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