Stop Laughing

Very few times do I read something that leaves me both exhilarated and disillusioned at the same time. That’s exactly how I felt though after reading Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article, ‘Michele Bachmann’s Holy War’. Holy shit, I thought. This person appears to be certifiably nuts, up from the depths of crazy swamp. She could be the next president of the United States.

Don’t laugh at the notion, Taibbi warns us. Not only is the prospect possible but our cruel laughter of ridicule only makes her stronger, makes her supporters more determined. Today’s conservatives seem to court our derision, lust for it even, as in the twisted little reality they’ve created, our dismissiveness proves the rightness of their cause.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a hermetically sealed bubble like that.

This is not a phenomenon unique to the U.S. We up here in Canada are suffering under the yolk of caustically laughing and mocking those politicians who, a little more than a generation ago would’ve justifiably been relegated to the wasteland fringes of ‘conservative’ thought. Toronto finds itself in the grip of an especially virulent radical, irrational right wing ideology.

What’s even more problematic and depressing about it, aside from the very fact such a state actually exists, is that it’s hard to know what to do about it. How do you fight such a slippery opponent? Reasoned debate or discussion is met with nothing more than sound bites and sloganeering. The last word is a claim that we’re all entitled to our opinions even when said opinions aren’t at all valid, based as they are on misinformation, half-truths or outright lies. If not mockery and derision to such anti-social practices, what’s left?

No, really. I’m asking because I have no idea.

All through last year’s municipal campaign candidate for mayor Rob Ford rode a wave of voter anger and discontent, stoked and encouraged by his own narrow-minded view of the role of government in our lives and painfully obvious bad math in construction of the mythical Gravy Train. His candidacy was initially written off as delusional based on his outrageous antics as a 10 year councillor and the fundamental illogic that formed the foundation of his campaign. Jokes were made at his expense. He and his ‘Nation’ were mocked, ridiculed, reviled and a whole lot of other words, all negative.

Like Michele Bachmann, he seemed energized by the attacks, actually believing that they only proved (somehow) that he was right, his views made that much more legitimate by simply being questioned. His growing number of supporters ran with that sensibility, taking up the martyr’s cross and using it to prove the justness of their cause. Downtown elites, fearful of losing their privileged status, were simply lashing out, realizing that their good times were coming to an end. We don’t have to defend ourselves or our ideas to you. We know what we know.

Who, aside from a child, acts like that? Imagine where we’d be if any and all criticism was invalidated simply by a shrug of the shoulders and a well, let’s-just-agree-to-disagree sentiment. You think the world is round and I think it’s flat. You think it revolves around the sun and I think we are the centre of the universe. We’d still be leaving in fucking caves.

Even then, under attack, some will revive the ghost of Galileo, claiming he too was pilloried by the elite of his time because he told the truth. The difference is, his truth was arrived at through logic, reason and a scientific approach. That’s how truth is usually found. The neo-conservative truth is the complete opposite of all that. It is the anti-truth.

It seems that such anti-truth can not only float effortlessly above the air, just out of reach in theory, it can survive a severe manhandling by reality in the minds of those ascribing to it. All those promises and pledges that candidate Ford made out on the hustings last year are already looking a little ratty. Remember this groaner? Toronto does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. As mayor, he now admits the city has a revenue problem. Or how about this one? We can cut taxes without cutting services. Guaranteed. We’ve already experienced ‘minor’ service cuts and are being told to expect bigger ones next year. Guaranteed.

Rob Ford came to power on a platform built of anti-truth and now that we’re witnessing it, up close and personal, how does his flock react? We’re just a bunch of whiners, complainers, sore losers. Get used to it. Our guy’s in charge now.

Let’s call that what it is. The Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah method of discourse that most of us grow out of by the time we’re 10 and that now passes for deep political thought in conservative circles. It cannot be refuted since only eggheads refute things. I may not be a downtown/east/west coast/educated elitist but I know what I know. It cannot be challenged because if you challenge it that means you don’t agree with it, and if you don’t agree with it you’re just a downtown/east/west coast/educated elitist etc., etc., etc.

It’s beautiful in its circular insularity, free of any sort of doubt or curiosity. A veritable cloak of intellectual invincibility. That which makes you dumber makes you stronger. In some circles it would be considered a negative psychological affliction (a circle filled with whining sore loser elitists). But for the conservative movement, it’s a winning strategy.

Leaving the question still unanswered. How do we engage with that sort of alternate reality that sees any attempts at engagement as nothing short of a personal attack? There’s no room for reason or logic. Laughing and belittling in the hopes of shaming them from their stupor only leads to a digging in of heels and further steeling of determination to be unmoved. Ignoring them seems to get them elected. We’re running out of options.

Anyone got any other bright ideas?

cluelessly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Responding To Our Responders

So we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke received, if not a deluge of comments to our post from a couple days ago, A Plea to Conservatives Everywhere, let’s call it a handful. A good percentage of which were from almost exclusively well-behaved self-described conservatives taking exception to much of what we’d written. It would’ve been time-consumingly impossible to respond to each one individually. Instead, we’re lumping them together into a single response post which, undoubtedly, will look as if we’re misrepresenting what everyone wrote and deceptively framing the terms of debate in order to make ourselves seem much smarter than we actually are.

Alas, the burden of ultimate editorial control.

There seemed to be four currents of argument running through the anti-comments that came in. When we asked to be shown “…how further corporate tax cuts will kick start our economy,” we got a lesson in the theory of corporate taxes. Yes, we understand the concept. We just weren’t sure where the proof was that cutting them further at this particular time was going to help. Unless you’re one of those anti-Keynesian absolutists, reducing spending along with taxes in such an anemic state of recovery doesn’t make a whole lot of economic sense.

Besides, we’ve been hacking away at corporate tax rates both federally and provincially for a few years now, haven’t we? When should we expect to see positive results? And if corporate tax cuts are such an effective weapon in stimulating the economy, why not lobby for their complete removal? Eliminate them entirely. If 13% is going to help, why not 0? Point to a jurisdiction with significantly lower corporate tax rates than ours are currently and say, see? They work. And if I can’t find one, like say Mexico, that counters your argument, I’ll lay down my sword.

A number of commenters suggested the burden was on me (or the entire Left) to prove that de-regulation and less oversight was the source of the global financial meltdown. I thought they already had. Google Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman and see what he’s been saying over the last couple years. Or Jeffrey Sachs if he’s more to your economic taste. Check out Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone for the naked criminality at the very heart of the meltdown. Read Michael Lewis’s The Big Short or Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. Watch Charles Ferguson’s documentary, Inside Job. The case has been made quite definitively. You dispute it? You refute it.

And on a couple little side notes. One commenter asked if we wanted to return to the days of the Glass-Steagall Act “…which limited credit growth and therefore slowed down economic growth…” Errr, am I wrong in remembering that the full repeal of Glass-Steagall occurred in 1999, at the height of one of the biggest economic expansions in history? So how exactly did it slow down economic growth? The commenter then went on to point out that no Canadian banks failed due to smart regulations — which, while in opposition, the current Conservative government fought against — and kind of proves my point for me, doesn’t it? We missed the brunt of the financial shitstorm because of government regulation and oversight not because a lack of it. Or am I missing something?

“Prove this whole trickle-down theory to me,” I taunted. “How rising tides raise all boats.” That brought forth a litany of indignation, mostly in two forms. One, things were much better now than they were 100 years ago, owing to the miracle of free market capitalism. OK, sure. But my line of attack wasn’t necessarily directed at the idea of free market capitalism, only how it’s been conducted in the last 30 years or so. Cast your minds back, 50, 60 years ago, to the more immediate post-War era. Where governments taxed the richest of the rich more prodigiously and spent massively on things like infrastructure, established universal health care and sent men to the moon. An era when a single bread winner could buy a house, raise a family, put the kids through college and retire comfortably.

A picture, I’m sure, more idyllic than it actually was but one that is a pipe dream nowadays. Much of our prosperity is built on a mountain of debt. Two income households are the norm. Post-secondary education has grown into an onerous financial burden that is increasingly failing to deliver on its promise of leading to better lives.

Secondly, please, please, please stop bringing up China and India when attempting to defend modern day capitalism. Yes, millions of people are climbing their way out of poverty. And yes, China in particular has turned away from its Maoist past and heartily embraced aspects of the free market. But as another commenter pointed out, both countries remain planned economies, control highly centralized. If our governments here attempted to intrude into the economy the way the Chinese and Indian governments do, conservatives would howl in outrage before soiling themselves and passing out. Witness the reaction to the various stimulus packages.

Finally, conservative commenters took exception to our painting them all with the same brush. There were pro-environmental conservatives who believed in anthropogenic climate change. Conservatives who suspected the War on Drugs was a bust. Pro-choice conservatives. Non-Rob Ford voting conservatives.

Fair enough but that type of red Toryism or socially liberal conservatism is hardly in the ascendancy. Your movement has been hijacked by the radicals under your umbrella and they’ve seized Washington, Ottawa and city hall in Toronto. They’re attacking women’s rights. They’re declaring climate change hokum and maybe even beneficial. The federal Conservative government is trying to close down a safe injection site in Vancouver in the face of overwhelming evidence of its positive contribution. At the same time they’re attempting to roll back drug laws to a Draconian state in order to fill the prisons that they are building. These neocons hate government and everything it stands for.

They don’t believe much of anything you’re claiming to believe. In fact, your views sound much closer to my left wing bias. So why are you fighting me and not those who are doing great damage to your conservative brand and giving you all a bad name?

respondingly submitted by Cityslikr