I just had an hour-and-a-half conversation with my grandfather about politics. We didn't debate the debt ceiling or tax hikes; we barely touched the tea party phenomenon or Michelle Bachmann or even whatever the latest sex scandal is. We didn't talk about the current market crash or The Fed or S&P. We didn't talk about gay marriage or abortion or the environment.
We did, however, spend over an hour debating whether Obama was a socialist and former Muslim who secretly doesn't really like America and is trying to wage "class warfare" on the rich. After all that time, I'm still not even totally sure what he meant by that.
It hit me in a really visceral way that there is no longer a real national debate about either direction, like continuing the Afghanistan War, or values, like abortion. Instead, we are having a basic disagreement about facts that are not only easy to verify, but so wildly distorted that the very distinction between fact and opinion has become blurred. Suddenly it becomes plausible to say, "Well, I think Obama is a socialist and you don't, so I guess that both our opinions are valid and we can agree to disagree." Actually, both his political record and his personal philosophy are really well-documented, and by either standard he is demonstrably not a socialist. It is a fundamentally untrue narrative built on fundamentally untrue facts.
And yet suddenly we're off to semantics. If you define socialism as any attempt to raise taxes on people who are already paying taxes (I think this is his functional definition), and Obama supports a plan that includes tax increases, doesn't that make him kind of socialist? Sure, for the same reason that we could call him a communist if we define communism as making a left turn while driving. Or we delve into ontology: it is impossible to prove someone doesn't secretly hold socialist beliefs way deep down on the inside, even if they never proclaim or act on them. Or we just delve into conspiracy theories based on yet more demonstrably untrue statements: that he was really born in Kenya, that both his parents were communists, that his father was Muslim (almost-true; he was an atheist from a Muslim background), and that this is all part of a really elaborate plan to bring America to the heel of its rightful Marxist Muslim Overlords.*
God help us if we try to have a conversation about how implicit racism might make it easier to see Obama as an evil other. So much time has been spent building narratives out of untrue facts, and confusing facts with opinions and finally just calling the whole debacle "fact, but you can disagree if you want to (and you're stupid)," that there just isn't any room for real nuance. Instead we get, "I said he was a Kenyan socialist, I didn't mention him being black, why are you mentioning race, you'retheracistI'mdefinitelynotracist!"
More than ever I nurse the fantasy that Obama will conclude that sometimes compromise is not an option, and that you can't reason with people who are so invested in their narrative that they actually, literally refuse to take reason or reality into account. Just like you can't reason with people who are willing to race-bait for political power. I imagine him finally coming out with a speech that tells the Tea Partiers, possibly in politer tones, "Shut the fuck up, the adults are talking now." Instead, we have a president who can only govern by making right turns.
*Alternatively, Marxist Muslim Masters if you prefer the alliteration.