A friend posted the following as her Facebook status this morning:

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” – Jonathan Swift

And, while I’m less of a Jonathan Swift fan since studying “A Ladies Dressing Room” in my 18th Century Women Writers class, Swift’s line just got me thinking of something I’ve been mulling over as I watch the people protesting against health care, and, seemingly, Obama’s presidency and entire agenda.  These are the dunces.  And I don’t just mean the people waving signs.  I’m talking all the way up to Joe Wilson, who screamed “you lie!” after a statement which was in fact A FACT, which I pointed out in a previous post.  These people seem, in large part to be afraid of a monster in the closet which isn’t there.  And yet they keep insisting it is, even after “dad”, whether he take the form of Politifact or the president, has opened the door, pushed back the clothes, and shined a flashlight in the corner to assure us that there is really nothing to fear.

And I’m sure some of my readers are already irked that I used the title dunces in reference to protesters.  I’m not saying that ALL people who oppose health care reform are stupid or ignorant or dunces.  I’m not even sure most of them are.  But a large, large number of people seem to be moving into the willful ignorance category.  What else can you call it when people insist on believing scary myths, even when confronted over and over again with the truth?  When the truth is just one Google search away?  When organizations like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact have read the entire health care bill and are handily debunking myths and distortions from BOTH sides (seriously, at the time of writing this, PolitiFact’s front page features statements from Obama and Howard Dean which fall on the wrong end of the truth-o-meter)?  I mention the evenhandedness of PolitiFact for a reason: many love to talk about how the media, all of it, everywhere, with the exception of Fox News, is biased.  Clearly there are sites out there, like PolitiFact, which are taking care to monitor the statements of people on both sides of the political spectrum.  There’s really no excuse for believing or perpetuating easily-disproved lies.

One such example is the “death panels” trope, the idea that “Obama wants to pull the plug on grandma,” when in fact, the section of the bill Sarah Palin and others were attacking were about empowering patients like grandma to make their end-of-life desires known, so that the patient’s wishes would be followed in those times, rather than doctors or family members or anyone else deciding how a patient should die (not to mention when!).  But through the fun-house-mirror of the opposition, empowered patients becomes government bureaucrats telling people what to do.  And despite vigorous debunkings of this myth, it persists! Here’s some photographic evidence of the persistence of this lie, from last Saturday’s Tea Party Protest in Washington DC:

via Flickr

Another example of this willful ignorance, is, to me, the use of the words communist, fascist, Marxist, and Nazi interchangeably, as if they aren’t each distinct political ideologies, and as if there isn’t a clear difference between the policies of a democratically elected, fairly moderate (seriously) liberal and some of the worst mass murderers in history.   This is ignorant of history and basic political science, but also a provocation to violence.  We had to kill those mass murdering despots, so what will these statements lead people to think about our duly elected president?  (And here I will note that while I found some of George W. Bush’s policies authoritarian and undemocratic, I am not and was not comfortable calling him a Nazi or a fascist.)  Again, I go to the film:

Image via the Washington Independent
Image via the Washington Independent

I could continue pointing out Tea Party Protest signs (look, I was a good girl and didn’t call them Teabaggers for a change), but I’ll just list a few more of the things I’ve seen a lot that have no basis in reality. For example, the idea that for some reason Obama wants to take away these people’s guns. They’re so afraid that President Obama, who has not stated any interest in taking people’s guns, that they’ve been showing up to town hall meetings and even presidential events packing heat. Politifact rates these claims of Obama taking away guns as “pants on fire” type lies.  Or there’s the idea that Obama wants to create some sort of wealth redistribution scheme from whites to blacks.  Or those who don’t believe Obama is a U.S. citizen, and seem to believe he hasn’t produced a birth certificate, even though he has.  Or that a public option would do away with private insurance, even though it would be optional.  Or that health reform equals government run healthcare.

There are just so many myths that so many people are repeating and believing, all of which are so easy to disprove with a simple internet search that it boggles my mind.  Why are people clinging to lies?  Why are they persisting in believing these things?  I really want to know.  I want to know why 60-75,000 people would march on Washington to protest things that aren’t even in any danger of becoming a reality.

There are plenty of legitimate arguments we could be having, over how many people should be covered by health reform, or how much it should cost, or how it should be paid for.  These arguments are worth having, and would result in a better bill, I’m sure of it.  And yet, instead, from congressmen all the way down to “Joe” (you KNOW he’s a Joe) Schmo, we keep having to remind people, “no, that’s not even remotely true” about utterly ridiculous things.  I know why Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, the Dunces in Chief, are stoking these fires, and that’s because they don’t care about the outcome of the bill, so long as people are still watching/listening to their shows, and more people watch/listen to their shows the more inflammatory they get.  This is a disservice to their viewers, who really could use a conservative critique of the proposals, so that they might ask questions of their representatives and decide how they feel about the reforms.

I firmly, firmly believe in a two party system, though I favor one side, clearly.  I believe that our Founders were right to create a system in which both sides would fight their way to the center, as moderation is preferable to factionalism.  I’m just not sure that we can continue to fight a battle of wits in which one side refuses to be armed.  And our democracy is the poorer for it.

Updated to include: This is a great post from the liberal Christian blog Progressive Revival on the racial element to these protests, which also touches on my “they are scared about easily disprovable things” point.

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