John Richards takes a stroll though the world of the American right-wing blog…
I love elections. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find election campaigns fascinating. When I visited Texas in 2006 I got caught up in the drama of the Gubernatorial Election, which was a three-way fight between the incumbent, a feisty Grandmother, and Kinky Friedman. It was a lot like Big Brother, except the winner got to be in charge of Texas. None of them seemed to have any policies, except “taxes should be lower” and “the other two candidates are probably paedophiles” (the second never overtly stated, but always suggested in ads with ominous music, silhouettes and phrases like “protecting our children”). I also learned a new word – gubernatorial – so it was both entertaining and educational.
I’ve been following the US elections obsessively. It’s such a great cast this year – as the US’s Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson put it, “you got your grizzled old veteran who’s trying to win one last campaign, you’ve got the brash rookie who inspires millions, you got the hockey mom who’s governor by day, naughty librarian by night, you’ve got Biden who’s all… Bideny there…” And the actors are great. You honestly believe that Sarah Palin is a real human being (although I think the writers went too far by calling her children Trig, Track and Bristol. Not terribly believable, guys).
While the Outland Institute has existed as a physical educational facility since the mid-1600s, our online annexe has only been up since July. Every day we receive a printout on the teletype machine of the most popular blogs across the wordpress universe, and many of them are political in nature. So I’ve been indulging myself by reading dozens and dozens of insane conservative blogs.
I think we sometimes forget just how crazy right-wing the US is. On the American satirical news show The Daily Show on October 15th, host Jon Stewart talked about Stephen Harper winning the Canadian election. Putting him in perspective for the local audience, he said, “Stephen Harper, of course, the leader of Canada’s conservative party. Canada’s a relatively liberal nation, their conservative party is the equivalent of our… Gay Nader Fans For Peace“.
The world of the right-wing blog is enjoyable in the same way as good science fiction. There’s a whole universe, with it’s own laws and logic, completely different to the one you or I live in. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of rabid right-wing blogs, many of which appear to be written by people who receive messages from aliens through their teeth. Rumour, slander and innuendo and created, repeated and replicated through this chain of blogs so people begin to believe them as the truth. Many of these stories verge into X-Files territory, involving huge conspiracies full of shadowy figures.
Some of the current favourites about Democratic nominee Barack Obama include:
- Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and is therefore ineligible to run for President;
- Obama is a citizen of Indonesia, and is therefore ineligible to run for President;
- Obama is Muslim;
- Obama is Muslim and planning to bring about the downfall of the US through socialism, communism or possibly a giant heat-ray;
- Obama is a mindless puppet for the real shadowy figures who are planning to bring about the downfall of the USA (this sometimes involves the Clintons);
- Obama faked a birth certificate to prove he wasn’t born in Kenya or Indonesia;
- Obama spends every hour possible hanging out at the mall with terrorists;
- Obama will be getting rap sensation Ludacris to perform at the White House Inauguration;
- Obama will paint the White House black (see what they did there?);
- Obama is the anti-Christ. Seriously, I have read that one quite a bit. IT’S IN REVELATION, PEOPLE!
Recently the stories have moved to his wife Michelle – in one of the most patently unbelievable ones, she’s supposed to have called an obscure Norwegian blog called API that writes about African-American affairs and warned them not to write any more about her husband’s Indonesian citizenship which – by the way – makes him ineligible to run for President. Mum’s the word, Norway.
When pressed for any proof, the site claims it has a tape of the conversation and will release it in due course. Why? Why on Earth would Michelle Obama do something so bizarre in the last days of an election her husband is apparently winning? Why would she feel remotely threatened by a tiny and insignificant blog? And if the tape existed why wouldn’t the bloggers want to take advantage of it? Why would they wait?
Whenever the idea of evidence comes up, the blogs get full of comments like “we’re just waiting for the right moment and then this is going TO BLOW THE ROOF OFF THE NOBAMA CAMPAIGN!!!!!!!” What? You have important evidence about the derailing of democracy and you treat it as though you’re choosing an opening weekend to release an action film? Or does it simply…. not exist?
The bloggers believe all these stories because they want to – they reassure their prejudices, they “sound” right. “Evidence” is something invented by the MSM – or Mainstream Media – who are all leftist conspirators. The Mainstream Media, by the way, is virtually everybody, from The New York Times to snopes.com to the BBC. The only possible exception is Rupert Murdoch‘s comically-biased Fox News, and even they’re coming under fire for being a bit soft (Fox‘s slogan is “Fair and Balanced”, which is presumably ironic).
Now, you may ask why we should even care – after all, it’s not our president. Except, of course, that it is. The US President chooses the wars we get involved in, the economic crises we get to enjoy. America sneezes and the world gets invaded for oil. I honestly think the rest of the world should get to vote for the American president, since we’d generally make a better job of it.
I know Australia has its own crazy right-wingers, but they’re generally collected together in groups like Hillsong or the Exclusive Brethren, so they’re easy to avoid (incidentally, in my head I always remember that latter group being called the “Extreme Brethren”, which I imagine would be a religious group that believes bungee-jumping and snow-boarding brings you closer to God).
Australia has faced some very unpleasant, divisive years recently with the rise of the far-right, and I’d like to think we’re on our way back to common-sense. The leaders of both of major parties seem to be decent, sensible men (when they’re not trying to win votes by demonising Bill Henson) and I hope we’ll see a return to more humanist values in our society. In fact, I read this in The Age on October 20th:
“I believe Senator Obama, if elected, can relight the idealism and sense of purpose that the US had when the UN was formed, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, and when the US supported efforts to build a better and a fairer international system….
The Bush years have undermined much of the good America achieved in those years. But we should not allow his years to fool us into believing that that is the real America. The authentic voice of America comes from other people who believe in the idealism of the American dream.
In watching the debates and the conduct of the current campaign, Obama gives me hope that America may be reborn.”
So, which aging hippy said that?
Yes, former Prime Minister Malcolm “Life Wasn’t Meant To Be Easy” Fraser. Remember when we thought of him as a cold-hearted conservative? The world hurtled right-ward behind him and now he seems like a voice of reason, crying out for idealism and fairness. Maybe we should all stop to listen.
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You’re from Australia…great! You and your sensible friends please come and populate the states. I was starting to feel really lonely, trying to be rational and all. I’ve really started taking an interest in blogs from citizens of other nations, just to see what YOU GUYS think of all this American mess.
So far, I think our image is ruined, thanks in part to the “Us vs. Them” mentality of the past 8 years (for all your cooperation, your country is still “them,” I’m afraid). For the record, there are moderates among us who just aren’t heard as much because we aren’t known for our dogmatism or zealotry.
Thank you for your post!
I think Tina Fey should run for president. It’s the fancy catwalk abilities that are the clincher.
And hey, fun and games in the US in the shape of implications that the McCain campaign is trying to disenfranchise voters: http://blackboxvoting.com/s9/index.php?/archives/280-McCains-Absentee-Ballot-Mailer-Fiasco-Spreads-Could-Disqualify-Some-Voters.html
I read a lot of commentary from US moderates (and even lefties) on Livejournal, though I admit I’m actively avoiding all the right wing crazies. A US-based friend of mine and I recently discussed an article which says that the world isn’t anti-US, it’s anti-Bush and that electing Obama will restore the country in the eyes of the global community. Electing McCain, on the other hand, is like the US giving a big thumbs up to the Bush policies of the last 8 years and likely to entrench anti American sentiment.
I have pretty much loathed Bush’s foreign policies, though I guess it’s not his fault that our erstwhile leader was so keen to skip along gaily strewing rose petals and Australian troops before his feet. I’d like to see someone with a wider world view in the White House. Even if he does have decorating issues, like the song. (“I see a red car and I want to paint it black. I see a white house and I want to paint it black…”)
My only problem now is that I am watching Season 4 of The West Wing and keep getting confused between Bartlett’s re-election campaign and this one.
Mate, I would love a portal into your mind: from Tim Tams to Sweet Valley High to this!! And WTF is with that McCain/Obama pic?
The re-emergence of Mal as a small l liberal hero is fascinating. Anyone who despised Howard as much as he did – well we had to re-claim him. (but is IT TIME to forget…?)
The saddest and yet most hopeful thing I heard recently about the US election was from poet, writer and seemingly all-round-amazing-bloke Chris Abani when he chatted on the telly with Andrew Denton.
“And I predicted that Obama would win because I said sexism would trump racism because you know if I walked into a bar and George Bush was sitting there and I sat down next to him and I went ah, women; we would bond immediately. He’d get me a beer; we would talk at least for the moment of that drink there would be no black man, white man; no right wing, left wing. We would just be two blokes commiserating, all right.”
This is from a black man who has had the crap beaten out of him in prison.
I’m not totally happy that my hopes are resting on knowing that middle class, white America still don’t like women.
Hello everyone! Thanks for popping in…
Sigma: Thank you for your rational comments! I looked at your site and it was refreshing to see political discussion that was both calm and objective – and also used correct spelling and capital letters. Do you live in one of the “pro-America” or “anti-America” parts of the country? Is this election as heated in real life as it appears from this distance?
Narrelle: There’s a great clip around of Paris Hilton – who’s running for fake president – getting advice from Martin Sheen, who was “one of the greatest fake presidents”. It’s genuinely funny and you don’t even want to punch Paris in the face: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/06ae3d8563
Anne-Marie: In today’s Age Mal turns up in two separate articles, complaining SBS has gone too mainstream in one, and urging the government to do more about global warming in another – he’s turned into Bob Brown. Which is a good thing.
And that misogyny, eh? Bringing people together… Perhaps the Obama people should use that in some of the “poor spelling” states – OBAMA: AT LEAST HE’S NOT A CHICK. There is no useful moral here, is there?
Syms: Tim Tams, Sweet Valley High, US Politics. I’m a renaissance man, my friend. A renaissance man.
You wrote: “The bloggers believe all these stories because they want to – they reassure their prejudices, they ‘sound’ right.”
Have you come across the latest buzz word to describe this concept? It’s: TRUTHINESS. I love this word, it neatly describes that “gut feeling, common sense, without resort to anything trivial like facts” feeling that something must be right because it feels right.
These right wing blogs are full of resorts to “truthiness”.
That Paris vid is utterly brilliant. I remember when the whole fake running for president thing started, because she didn’t like McCain’s mob using her name in an ad for something. I wasn’t actually paying proper attention at the time. But her response to it has made me not hate her any more. Well, not want to punch her in the face anymore, at any rate.
Last night at an Arts Festival Show, I saw two ladies wearing “Women for Obama” badges. I spoke admiringly of same – it turns out they are expats from San Francisco now living in Melbourne – and they promptly gave me one of Obama against a light blue background. It’s all very aspirational and a little bit sexy. Tim says I have to wear it every day for the next fortnight as a good luck talisman, and I’m game for that. Because we all know political outcomes rely as much on superstition and magic as they do on actual votes…
The current US election is of course the best TV series ever. How HBO found the budget I’ll never know. My favourites so far have been season two and season five. Strangely, I know several people who are missing it entirely as they’re too busy re-watching the West Wing instead…
BTW – John, for all your claims of being a renaissance man there’s been far too little 16th century Italian art on this blog of late. (Saying “renainssance man” twice may fool some, but I see through your cunning ruse). Time to make good with some Raphael and Donatello instead? Artists first, ninja turtles second please.
Took me a minute to get back to the thread, but I have to say I live in a Pro-America region of the country, albeit the one least known for it’s correct spelling and capitalization. :-) In the great (read: conservative) state of Alabama, there is no hope of Obama winning the popular vote, but I believe in this man.
The ugliness between supporters is real, and you would not believe the chain e-mail that goes around about both candidates–on top of very disturbing statements that come out of Sarah Palin’s rallies. There really is a weird tension between supporters of the opposing camps. Election politics tend to create propaganda-fueled ugliness between fellow Americans, but this year is worse. You almost don’t want to bring politics up at work, as polite conversation with strangers, or even with friends and loved ones. We are pretty much divided in two over this particular campaign.
Frankly, it scares me to think we could isolate ourselves from the world–and more imporatntly, each other–forever. And Narelle, just remember that once upon a time, you could trust the President of the United States to treat your country like an ALLY and not a PAWN. This is what we’re fighting to liberate ourselves from, and I love my country enough to vote even if my ballot won’t matter that much.
Thanks for thinking about us!
sigmapromise – thanks for your insights, and yes, there was a time when there was more respect between our countries – not just US Presidents treating us as allies and not pawns, but our government treating the US as if it were an ally and not a boss. I really think the US and the world may be a different shape after the election, one way or another.