Tuesday, July 15, 2014


The American right wing is a cult. There's no one leader of this cult, no Jim Jones or David Koresh, but the members are unswervingly faithful devotees; their dogma is distributed piecemeal, in talk radio harangues, on Fox News broadcasts, in alerts posted on message boards and forwarded via email. The key point about all this is that no canonical right-wing assertion is ever debunked, and none ever loses its power to stir outrage. Right-wingers still think Barack Obama was born in Kenya and still think Hillary Clinton is a lesbian who killed her male lover, Vince Foster, when she wasn't hanging sex toys on the White House Christmas tree.

Certain outrage moments are reduced, distorted, truncated versions of actual utterances by right-wingers' objects of hate. The meanings of the remarks as actually uttered differ greatly from the wingers' interpretation -- but that doesn't matter, because every right-winger can recite these utterances from memory, and all right-wingers agree that the true meaning in every case is the sinister interpretation they share: Hillary Clinton expressed indifferent contempt for the Benghazi deaths when she said, "What difference does it make?"; Barack Obama's call for a "fundamental transformation" was a reference to a socialist/fascist/jihadist anti-American revolution; Obama said entrepreneurs "didn't build" their own businesses.

Well, the wingers may have another one that they're never going to let go. The new outrage-quote that will probably be added to the right's carefully curated collection of grievances is showing up at the Drudge Report right now:

Omigod! John Kerry, our traitor president's treasonous secretary of state, doesn't think of America as exceptional!

Well, no, that's not what Kerry said -- though Weekly Standard blogger Jeryl Bier fed it to the right that way, in this post. Kerry spoke to a gathering of diplomatic staff and families in Vienna; Bier gives his remarks in context, but the key phrase is carefully highlighted, in bold, presumably for the convenience of Matt Drudge, Fox News, and other conduits of demagoguery:
... towards the end of his talk he recalled his two Yale commencement speeches, forty-eight years apart, where he discussed "sort of the world we’re in" and America's place in it:
...I was privileged to speak to the graduating class of Yale this year, and it was particularly a pleasure because it happened to turn out to be, literally, I hate to say it, 48 years to the day that I was privileged to speak as a graduating senior to my own class. And I talked to them about sort of the world we’re in right now, but at the end I tried to remind them all, which I remind you of, we are -- I get always a little uptight when I hear politicians say how exceptional we are -- not because we're not exceptional, but because it’s kind of in-your-face and a lot of other people are exceptional, a lot of other places do exceptional things.
Bier does acknowledge that Kerry went on to say this:
But we are exceptional in a certain way that no other nation is. We are not defined by thousands of years (inaudible) of history. We are not defined by ethnicity. We are not defined by bloodline or by anything except an idea. And that idea was expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution, the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness, for anything they want. Pretty amazing, right? So think about that. It's the only country that is literally united and formed around and whose rule of law is based on that idea, one idea, and it's pretty special. So thank you for representing it. Thank you. (Applause.)
Now, you and I might conclude that it's unfair to truncate the quote as Bier clearly wants right-wing media demagogues to truncate it. You and I might conclude that Kerry makes his belief in American exceptionalism abundantly clear, even in the very sentence that's highlighted. You and I might conclude that Kerry also made this belief clear in that recent Yale commencement speech (which Bier does go on to quote briefly).

In that commencement speech, Kerry said:
That is what has always set America apart: our generosity, our humanity, our idealism.

Last year I walked through the devastation of the typhoon that hit the Philippines. The U.S. military and USAID and regular volunteers got there before countries that lived a lot closer. We went there without being asked and without asking for anything in return. And today Americans are helping to bring that community back to life.

In Nigeria, when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls, the government didn't turn to other powerful countries for help – and by the way, they’re not offering.

As Josh and Nia mentioned, it was my privilege to stand here 48 years ago at Class Day. Before coming here, I did re-read that speech. A lot of it was about Vietnam, but one line jumped out at me. In 1966 I suggested, "an excess of isolation had led to an excess of interventionism." Today we hear a different tune from some in Congress and even on some campuses and we face the opposite concern. We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade.

I can tell you for certain, most of the rest of the world doesn't lie awake at night worrying about America's presence -- they worry about what would happen in our absence.

Without arrogance, without chauvinism, never forget that what makes America different from other nations is not a common bloodline or a common religion or a common ideology or a common heritage -- what makes us different is that we are united by an uncommon idea: that we're all created equal and all endowed with unalienable rights. America is not just a country like other countries. America is an idea and we -- all of us, you -- get to fill it out over time.
Kerry sure sounds like a mainstream, centrist patriot to me. But no, there's a right-wing morning to win, and there are future Two-Minutes' Hates to craft, so the Vienna remarks will be distorted and quoted out of context, now and probably forever on the right.

Because you can never put enough fuel on the fires of right-wing hate.


Victor said...

Rage junkies, always needing ever increasing amounts of rage, to get that same high for today's "16-hour Hate."

aimai said...

I've really come to read this stuff as a kind of force field of denial that the right wing puts up to prevent people from stepping out of their cocoon and even considering, for one moment, that the people on the other side of the aisle might simply be fellow citizens trying to do a job. Its not just, as Victor rightly points out, that the patient is addicted to outrage and needs greater and greater doses or that the patient is going deaf and needs louder and louder shrieks to hear the message. Its also that this constnat drumbeat of "they are anti american, they are hateful, they are liars" prevents the listener from even considering the policy issues which are being fought over.

Recently (and rather famously on our side) the Republican Student College President of Mississippi (?), a Cuban American kid, switched from Republican to Democrat. When asked why--and why not "independent" as though that were some natural halfway point--he said simply that he had gone to college and taken some courses which helped him realize that of the two parties one was more aligned with his core beliefs and the things he wanted to see done politically in this country. When he asked himself "how can I get the country to move in the right direction" (paraphrasing, not a direct quote) or, in other words, when he thought programatically instead of theologically, it became clear to him that not only could he choose to join the other party, that it would be a good idea to do so.

This is the opposite of the kind of thinking that revels in these "gotchas" and these "secrets" that the MSM is keeping from you. But there's a long history of this kind of demonization because it works. To me its redolent of the kind of scandal sheets and attacks on the nobility in an aristocratic system--for the delectation of the peasantry there is no point arguing about the gold standard or military engagements. You just exemplify the awfulness of the current rulers by attacking Marie Antoninette as a foreigner or as a spendthrift. Which, come to think of it, is literally the meaning of the attacks on Michelle Obama as being Marie Antoninette. Personal attacks, attacks on patriotism, substitute (or as they would argue are a convenient short hand) for any actual political argument. And it has the addded benefit that it keeps the actual policy issues off the table.

Peter Janovsky said...

Makes me anti-nostalgic for the 2004 campaign when Kerry's comment that we should reduce terrorism to a mere "nuisance" was trumped up into "Kerry thinks terrorism is just a nuisance!" and the word went forth to every hate-outlet to repeat that ad nauseum, which along with the Swift Boat lies resulted in a a narrow loss in Ohio and the election.

Not sure for whom I have more contempt -- the rubes who just swallow this, or the cynics who spread it knowing its a lie.

Roger said...

Jeryl? Really?

RoadScholar said...

"Too many children are being born into economic conditions that almost guarantee failure." -Barack Obama

See? Obama thinks too many children are being born! He is planning forced sterilizations and mandatory abortions! Pure evil! Aaackspsht! Fphrtglnshpppp! BENGHAZI!!!!

Ken_L said...

My first reaction was that Bier had written a reasonably balanced report, but then I asked myself why report Kerry's comments in the first place? They were made at an insignificant internal State Dept get-together, and entirely un-newsworthy. The ONLY point in reporting them is to whip up confected outrage at the lines highlighted by Bier. This has been duly carried forward on other right wing blogs, minus of course the context that Bier included in his "balanced" post. All in all a very clever bit of meme-seeding by Bier that lets him plausibly deny any bias.