A new phrase entered my lexicon in the last few days: low-information voter. The chattering pundits on the tube were tossing it about, explaining why Republican surrogates for John McCain and Sarah Palin were brandishing slurs and outright fibs about their opponents. The reason was that "low-information voters" gobble up the horseshit and believe it's caviar.
The phrase was a polite way of saying "willfully and really stupid people." Karl Marx – before I hear screeches of "commie, commie," which I'm not, and such uninformed clamoring is partly why I'm penning this column – coined the term "lumpenproletariat," and defined this group as the "refuse of all classes."
Call them what you will, these folks are the mindless battalions that lurch along in lockstep to the rants of demagogues, whether Mao or Mussolini – or, I'd argue, McCain. In their ugliest incarnation, they are liars, thugs and always, always cowards. They'll ban and burn books (or try to intimidate librarians into doing so, as Palin did in Wasilla, Alaska, circa 1996). They'll terrorize despised minorities for political advantage (as a shadowy group called the Clarion Fund has done by inserting an inflammatory anti-Muslim DVD into swing state newspapers).
The "lumpen" agitators deal in only two commodities, hatred and ignorance, both of which have been in plentiful supply during the last few days of the presidential campaign.
In Georgia, we have a heaping supply of lumpens. Why would anyone think Saxby Chambliss was more representative of patriotism – after he dodged the draft by claiming his football team-caliber knees were bad – than Jim Martin, who served as an Army officer in Vietnam? It's the lumpen factor, people willing to ignore reality and vote decisively against their own self-interest.
The core problem is the widening chasm that divides American society. It isn't something that just happened. It was manufactured, and both major political parties and people of all persuasions have contributed. It's not just that Fox News is the propaganda arm of the right wing of the Republican Party – it is, of course. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and the lesser lights of the network are strident, hateful and untruthful. Their vitriolic partisanship is rivaled by Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC – but not their mendacity.
On "Countdown," Olbermann is merciless in savaging McCain for craven behavior. But at least he sticks to the facts. On Fox, and in the McCain campaign, any rumor or smear of Obama is assumed true – even if proven otherwise.
There are differences. In the real world, Obama handily won the two debates with McCain, according to polls of undecided voters. But among Fox viewers, the victory is handed to McCain by a staggering 87 percent. And those Fox-ites, today's lumpenproletariat, undoubtedly believe what they hear. A few years ago, they believed Fox's claims that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and had weapons of mass destruction. Today, Palin proclaims that American bombs don't kill Afghan civilians, and the Fox viewers' heads bob up and down -- despite ample reports on real news outlets just last week of such lethal incidents.
One of the most popular tactics of O'Reilly and Hannity is guilt by association. There's absolutely nothing evil in Obama's service on a nonprofit board (a board funded by a Republican) with a 1960s radical, Bill Ayers. Obama has specifically condemned the violent acts attributed to Ayers. Hannity's spin is a smear peppered with fabrications. So, it was especially delightful this month to see Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs thoroughly eviscerate Hannity by doing to the Fox blowhard exactly what Hannity does to others.
Gibbs cited an appearance on a Hannity "documentary" by a well-known anti-Semite and political nutcase, Anthony Martin-Trigona – the host never hints at his guest's horrid bona fides for viewers. Gibbs then proceeded to assert, tongue in cheek, that Hannity must subscribe to all of Martin's extremist and racist views – while the Fox guy sputtered. That's called comeuppance.
No candidate is ever, ever completely accurate in his or her claims. No political race can exist without some form of division. But there was a time when Dems and GOPers differed on policies and still embraced each other as Americans. Those tended to be eras of peace and prosperity.
In times of stress – the 1930s, the 1960s and now – divisiveness erupts with fury. And many people try to exploit that; Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and the Fox rabble-rousers are standout examples. Out of reaction and anger, we're seeing the same cancer metastasize on the left.
The danger is that the harsh words and angry ignorance can be deadly. In July, a pathetic fan of Hannity, O'Reilly and racist ranter Michael Savage murdered two members of a liberal Tennessee church. When Hannity screams to his followers, as he did in July 2005, "I'll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo: every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress," it's not hard to connect the dots that lead to violent acts.
Just in the last few days, Palin has accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists." Her dutiful lumpens have shouted back, "Kill him," "treason" and "Obama is a terrorist." The Republican rallies have become like hate fests for white nationalists, lacking only burning crosses to complete the message. That's not the Eisenhower GOP my military father supported. It's not a party any American should support.
There are real issues – the rapidly evaporating U.S. economy, the war, Social Security, health care. But tonight, I bet that if you tune in to Fox, Hannity will be haranguing about Obama and Bill Ayers. And the lumpens will be eating it up, with more than a few picturing Obama in a bull's-eye.
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