Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Scary Stuff in the Face of Change

Despite my past commentary on political stuff, I've generally tried to stay away from this whole "birther" movement and the growing apocalyptic/paranoid/hysterical conspiracy stuff because it was just so ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I now think it's getting scary. I try not be alarmist about these things but I'm beginning to reach the point where I think that the fear, the misinformation, and the mob mentality unleashed by the rantings and ravings of people out there are threatening serious damage to rational conversation and any semblance of bipartisan governance in America.

If you want to get an idea of what I'm talking about, you only need to go so far as the racial eptithets directed at a black Congressman (as well as the swastika defacing his office), the mobs at town hall meetings intended to discuss health care, and an eye-opening two-part article in Esquire by John Richardson about what people are really willing to believe and how truly outrageous claims have become part of the national conversation (read Part 1 and Part 2).

Change is hard. There's uncertainty about what's going to happen as a result of the current efforts to recover from the damage done over the prior 8 years. People are scared of that change, worried about their jobs, their livelihoods, their future. Fear of change is a powerful force and sadly, there are many people who would take advantage of that fear in an effort to boost ratings or in a gambit to win an election.

Sometimes it doesn't work (look at the outlandish claims by some on the left that the Bush Administration deliberately failed to prevent or even actively participated in the events of 9/11 to gain greater power) because the media doesn't give those claims credence. However, many news organizations are carrying the "birther" stories, even if only to dismiss them, or in the case of FOX, giving a massive megaphone to those who spew outright lies under the guide of "commentary" and "opinion."

There's a difference between disagreeing with the other political party or an individual politician. Usually the types of claims we're hearing from "mainstream" commentators like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Lou Dobbs are relegated to the lunatic fringe and the tin foil hat brigade. Sadly, either that fringe is getting bigger or more people are willing to accept that the lunatics are right.

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